By JOE BROOKS
I recently came across an astoundingly powerful student led project, the ELL Give Back Project just outside Boston in Massachusetts. The power of this project is three fold: it is student conceived and led; it has huge implications for schools and ELL programs; and its “added benefit” of encouraging cultural understanding is potentially very large. As we now watch entire groups of Americans and undocumented immigrants alike come under major stress, harsh off the leash discrimination, and in many cases actual attack, this student led project has so much to offer us all.
This student led and envisioned project epitomizes the very best of what we can be as a nation, and certainly what we promote through Community Works Institute (CWI), a community focused project that emerged from a school that clearly values student voice, service, and a sense of place for its students.
In the words of the students themselves
“Our main goal is to provide educational videos to foreign new-comers as our plan to make students’ transition (at our school) to their new environment easier.”
So far, working with student volunteers, these students have created a variety of videos in different languages. ELL Give Back Project’s founders and leaders are Jenna Agnone, Luiza Barbosa, and Rubia Fernandes. They have created a very professional web site to help document and share the work. They explain the why and how of their project.
“Luiza and Rubia have both taken part in the English Language Learners program at some point in their lives. They know how hard it is when you are new to an area and don’t know the language. When it comes to simple tasks in the American society, it can be intimidating to ask for help, which is why we have decided to work on this project who’s current goal is to create educational videos. Jenna is our new partner in expanding this wonderful program. She too believes in the work that we are doing and hopes that it will go far.”
What Is ELL?
ELL stands for English Language Learners. These programs exist in many or most schools at some size and significance. They are designed to teach non English speaking or struggling students the English language so they may take part fully and succeed within the regular schooling system. In schools with high rates of New Americans and or non English speakers, ELL is utterly crucial to achieving full participation and student success for all. Working in the background, ELL teachers are the unsung heroes across the U.S. in countless school systems. But, in many schools I visit, ELL programs and teachers also seem to be attracting student allies in their work. And THAT, could change everything.
The ELL Give Back project in itself acknowledges the “privilege” that English speakers have in a country that has traditionally seen periodic waves of immigrants arrive to participate in the so called “American Dream”, often arriving from countries ravaged by war, political threat, and natural or man made disaster. With our current political and social climate throwing into question just how welcoming Americans really are, this project assumes great significance if it’s shared approach to supporting ELL students spreads across the country. Likewise, their approach would clearly be important in other parts of the world.
Again in the student founders’ own words,
“Students involved with this program are learning English because they come from a different country where English is generally not the main language. Those in the earlier levels know almost no English; this can make life difficult for them for the first few months. After all, these students have to get used to a new school, country, language, and culture. It’s not always easy to be a part of this program, but our school works hard to make the students feel comfortable and welcomed into our school; the ELL Give Back project was created based off this principle.”
The ELL Give Back Program is currently the 2018 top 10 finalists for the KIND Schools Challenge, a partnership between the KIND Foundation and the Making Caring Common project at Harvard University. They received a $400 grant from the foundation which was used to buy new camera and editing equipment. Thanks to this support their videos have been of much higher quality and has given them the opportunity to share our program nation-wide.
The student founder-leaders would like to thank the Center for Citizenship and Social Responsibility (CCSR), which is currently run by Michael Skorker and Richard Trotta at the Medford Public High School. Jenna, Luiza, and Rubia say that these educator change agents have given them the opportunity to create and achieve this exceptional project. They hope it will “help many students that need something just like this for themselves.” They offer a “ big thank you to our volunteers who have donated their time and effort; without them this would not have been possible.”
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