Parents learning English benefit from class offered by Ball State, Muncie schools

Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

March 25, 2016

English Language Learner image

Sophomore elementary education major Rose Kinsey reads to Claudio, 9, and Cruz, 8, children of Florina Peréz, who participates in a a community class that helps parents of Grades K-12 students learn English.

Florina Peréz was frustrated by the word “frustrated.”

On a blustery late-winter weeknight, Peréz carefully sounded out the three-syllable word with the encouragement of a half-dozen other adults learning English seated around her.

Satisfied with her pronunciation, she made eye contact with Tim Meadows, her soft-spoken instructor from Ball State’s Intensive English Institute. “Very good,” he encouraged. “That one can be difficult.”

Every Tuesday since mid-January, Meadows has led this weekly English Language Learner (ELL) class in the library at Mitchell Elementary School. It’s free and offered near campus to parents and caregivers of K-12 students learning English, thanks to a partnership between Ball State and Muncie Community Schools (MCS).

“I’ve been coming for a few weeks,” Peréz said as she collected her worksheets and slipped them in a folder. Soon she would be off to the gymnasium to pick up her children, Claudio, 9, and Cruz, 8. “I’ve learned so much – words and phrases I didn’t know before.”

Welcoming English learners to Muncie, Ball State

Offering an ELL class for local parents and caregivers was the brainchild of MCS’ Rebecca Thompson, assistant to the superintendent for policy and planning, and Ball State’s Lynne Stallings, an associate professor of English who leads teacher preparation courses for students wanting to teach English language learners as a career.

English Language Learner image

Tim Meadows, an instructor from Ball State’s Intensive English Institute, says the class is rewarding because he's helping students succeed by teaching their parents English.

Stallings has worked for several years as part of MCS’ instructional ELL program, also known as English as a second language. The program enrolls roughly 65 percent of the 100-plus ELL students in the district. That includes children of Ball State international students from countries as far away as China and the Middle East. “It’s a rather diverse group,” she said.

This is the first year for a supplemental caregiver class, which focuses on simple conversational and directional phrases and an orientation to the U.S. school system.

Stallings explained that parents and caregivers of many students learning English may hesitate to get involved in their kids’ schooling because of apprehensions about the language barrier. “What we’re trying to do is help eliminate that and make them feel as welcome in Muncie as possible.”

For Kayleigh Ayres, a junior elementary education major, working with children whose caregivers are learning English lets her apply lessons she’s learning in her Ball State classes with Stallings.

“When I’m studying a new learning strategy, I’m eager to incorporate it into the activity I plan for the kids,” said the native of Brownsburg, Indiana. “Seeing the collaboration for this class between Mrs. Thompson, Tim and Dr. Stallings is interesting because this is something I could do in my future.”

One of Ayres’ activities for a recent evening class involved the card game Uno with Peréz’s sons. Earlier the boys enjoyed a reading of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” in English and Spanish by one of Ayres’ classmates, sophomore Rose Kinsey, also an elementary education major.

‘There is so much to know’

English Language Learner image

Kayleigh Ayres, a junior elementary education major, says working with children whose caregivers are learning English is an excellent opportunity. "It not only provides me an opportunity to be involved within the community, but it also allows me to learn through real-life application."

While Stallings’ students worked with Peréz’s children, Meadows focused on teaching the adults in the library. He pointed to a word he’d written on a small whiteboard in his hand.

“When we say ‘plumber’ in English, we drop the B.”

“No B?” asked Alma Aidé Campa Romero, the grandparent of an elementary school student.

“No B,” Meadows warmly answered.

Watching the instructor interact with the group offered a glimpse of the patience required to teach and learn a challenging language.

“There is so much to know,” Romero said. What does she think about the ELL class being offered to local caregivers? “It’s good,” she said in stilted English. “It’s necessary.”

Meadows said he loves offering his expertise – he has a master’s degree in applied linguistics and specializes in teaching reading – to the partnership. “I find this project rewarding because I’m able to directly help students succeed in the school district by helping their parents learn English and better understand school district policies.”

With the first semester’s offering of the class wrapping up in March, Thompson and Stallings want to offer it again in the near future. They are looking to develop tracks for beginner, intermediate and more advanced learners, in addition to possibly bringing in a second instructor.

If the classes continue, count on Peréz to sign up. Some of her biggest fears – not being able to help her kids with their homework and needing a translator for visits to the doctor – are abating with the skills she’s learning from Meadows each week.

“It’s been good for me.” She offered him a shy smile. “I want to keep going as long as I have a teacher.”

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