BLOOMFIELD, NJ — English as a second language is being taught to adults at Fairview Elementary School on Wednesday evenings. The course is a rigorous, 20-week workout for parents with varying degrees of English proficiency who have children enrolled in Fairview.
Class begins at 6 p.m. and runs for two hours without a break. Homework is assigned, which students may bring for review to teacher Agustina Batista’s classroom, starting at 5:30 p.m. It is a serious class for adults serious about helping their bilingual children with homework or, for themselves to help secure employment in their adopted homeland.
The program is in its third year. It has progressively increased in hours since its inception, as more funds have become available to teach English to non-English-speaking students. This is done through Title III funding for English Language Learners, or the ELL program.
Along with Batista, a Fairview Elementary School ELL teacher, the class is also taught by Ed Reyes, a classroom resource teacher at the school. According to Batista, students in the adult class attend after daytime jobs, sometimes arriving late but coming nonetheless. This would appear to be accurate. On Wednesday evening, Nov. 11, men and women entered the classroom as the first hour progressed and quietly took a chair at a table and got to work.
Most of the adults in class are Spanish-speaking, and when Principal Salvatore DeSimone paid a visit, he spoke easily to them in their native tongue. But there are also students from the Ukraine and Vietnam. There were students the previous year from Mongolia and the Ivory Coast.
“Their kids are completely bilingual and they came here to learn English,” DeSimone said. “I am so proud of them.”
He said the idea for the class came from Batista and Reyes.
“The two of them often discuss how to bring people closer to the school,” he said. “These students work all day and they come here. And we have grandparents here, too. These people are here because of the two teachers.”
DeSimone said there are as many as 31 ELL children in Fairview. The school has a total enrollment of 557 students.
At the head of the class, Batista and Reyes were teaching short and long vowel sounds.
Their effort was supplemented by a high-tech computer blackboard called Starfall. This gadget has the capability of enlarging and projecting workbook pages. Later in the lesson, students would come to the board, and, by using their finger as a cursor, drag vowel sounds from one area of the projected image to another in order to answer a question.
As for homework, Reyes said most of the adult complete their assignments.
“Everyone is anxious and determined to learn,” he said. “A lot of them are looking for conversation. But a lot of them come to learn to speak to get a better job.”
He said the idea for the ELL adult class came to him after tutoring a Fairvew student. The boy’s mother had told Reyes that she wanted to learn English but could not find a place for this. Reyes pointed to her: She was now in his class.
Reyes and Batista then approached DeSimone with the idea for an ELL adult class and Title III funding was sought. During its first year, there was enough funding for 10 weeks of class; last year, there was enough for 15.
But not all Fairview parents have the opportunity to learn English. Batista said she knew parents from Mexico and Costa Rica that cannot attend because of their job schedule.
“I have a family from Honduras I would love to come but they work,” she said.
In the Nov. 11 class, Batista counted about 25 adults. She said this total represented the families of 17 Fairview children. She said she had 30 ELL children during the day, and on that particular evening, at least 10 of them had a parent in the adult class. Her goal, she said, was to give all Fairview ELL children and parents the ability to read together. And the last adult class of the year will be just that. Batista said parents will bring their children, and in addition to having a party, they will sit down with them and read together in English.
“It’s a collaboration,” Batista said of parent and child reading together.
With collaboration in mind, Batista said the school will offer a two-night class sometime in the near future, taught in Spanish and English. Its goal is to provide Spanish-speaking parents with methods for them to help their children with homework. This class will be made available through Title III funding, too.