Resources shared at inaugural ESL Family Fair

Published 12:10 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

The community came together to help provide resources and information during the ESL Family Resource Fair held at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College North Campus Student Center.

Held April 18, the event, its first, was a collaborative effort between multiple organizations and agencies including UNC-Greensboro Educational Ignite Grant, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Rowan-Salisbury Schools and additional community partners who offer services that support the ESL (English as a Second Language) population and all community members.

Funds were provided by the Ignite Grant for literacy materials including free books and incentives for family participation and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, which provided funds for refreshments.

The resource fair was organized by Tara Gardner, RCCC ELA Department; Mary Jane Hartley, RCCC GED Department; and Ignite team members, Samantha Roberts, Candy Frye, Nelsie Lawing and Lauren Hunter, representing Rowan Salisbury Schools.

The Ignite Team was formed through participation in a continuing education course offered by UNC-Greensboro, said Frye, who is RCCC North Campus’ adult basic education virtual instructor.

“We are hoping to make this event an informational resource for the ESL population as well as all community members,” she said. “Promoting educational steps in literacy and learning is fundamental for everyone.” 

Multiple programs offered by the Rowan-Salisbury School system were shared by representatives at the fair including the Dual Language Immersion Program offered at Isenberg Elementary School.

This is a bilingual program where English and Spanish is taught to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, in kindergarten through fifth grade, said Katherine Restrepo, a lead teacher in the program.

“Our kids are fully exposed to the language,” she said. Plus they learn about the various cultures as the teachers share their cultures with the students, including Colombia, Honduras and Costa Rica, Restrepo said.

“We do dance, we do food. We share so many cultural aspects that enriches their vocabulary, but also their knowledge about the world,” she said.

Students also get the opportunity to “connect to schools from our country, and they can exchange their experiences about their country,” said Johana Vargas, also a lead teacher at the school.

ESL teacher Sherry Cox was there letting people know about and the fact that West Rowan offers free, online tutoring in all the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

At one table, Beth Poydock, a ESL lead teacher, shared about North Carolina’s Seal of Biliteracy Program offered in all of the high schools from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, where students can graduate with an endorsement of a diploma showing they are literate in two or more languages.

Those applying for jobs or going to college can show they are literate in English and some other language.

“We have so many languages. We have 30 languages that are in our school system right now,” she said. 

Plus, they have resources for the students to help with interpreting and translating and other programs that provide “an ample amount of ESL language instruction at every school, every kid, every language,” said Poydock.

This program is available to every high school and every student if they choose to participate.

Students can receive the diploma endorsement if they meet the ELA requirements by earning the unweighted 2.5 GPA or higher in their required English courses and take four semesters of Spanish and score a 2.5 or higher.

Erwin Middle School’s Assistant Principal Lydia Allen and the school’s ESL teacher Liliana Polanco wanted to share about the ESL program at the school, “and let people know how amazing” it is, as well as “engage with our families and get to know them a little bit better outside the school setting,” Allen said.

Polanco said they have a large group of ESL students at the school numbering about 65, and of that group, she teaches 51 of them.

She said that she has many cultures in her class including Ukrainian, Arabic, Mexican and some from Central America. “It’s really amazing. I really try to make them feel unique, which is actually the purpose of the class,” said Polanco, “and let them know that if they can speak Spanish or any other language, they can also learn English very well.”

Several tables held free school supplies and books that the children could take home with them, courtesy of the grant, said Lawing, who is an ESL teacher at Isenberg Elementary School.

Linda Mercado, who teaches sixth grade ELA and math at Corriher-Lipe, said they were giving school supplies to help the families and get them through the end of the year.

Seeing the excitement on the faces of the children “has been great, and then to tell them that there’s books back there that they get for free too. The kids are jumping up for joy,” Mercado said.

Learning that many adult family members of ESL students often request help with learning English, Ignite team members partnered with the ESL and GED departments at RCCC to provide information and resources.

Deborah Houpe, an ESL teacher at RCCC told of their English Language Learners Program, which has several different levels. If those interested in participating come and take a test, she said, they are placed according to how much English they know.

Classes are offered Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon, both in-person and online, and 6:30-9:30 p.m., online only

Alexa Rivas, CDC Public Health Associate with the Rowan Health Department, was there, and in addition to offering multiple giveaways, she wanted people to know they are there to serve them. 

“Regardless of their insurance status, you can still come to the Health Department. All you need is a form of ID from your home country or the U.S., and we can serve you,” she said.

Members of the Rowan Public Library staff likewise shared about the resources they have available.

Their message was they “have resources for everybody from kids to teens to adults. We have resources in English and Spanish as well as other languages too,” said Lyndsey Maloney, adult services supervisor. 

She mentioned the library’s digital resource they have, Transparent Language, that can help in learning a different language along with audio books and e-books.

Twenty-two vendors were set up at the event, said Frye, which had a goal of “promoting literacy through providing families with evidence-based strategies to help family members learn English and literacy materials and to gather community data by interviewing attendees in order to enhance students’ literacy skills based on the needs of the school and local communities.”

They are hoping to have additional events in the future.