Students help young refugees learn basics of the English language
When Shaker High School seniors Aleksandra (Allie) Lajeunesse and Sarah McGovern signed up for an elective Human Rights course, they could not have imagined the impact it would have on them. For a class project, the two volunteered at Refugee and Immigrant Support Service of Emmaus (RISSE) in Albany. The local organization works with refugee families providing long-term mentoring and education as the immigrants build new lives after experiencing trauma, dislocation, and relocation.
Part of the RISSE mission is to support children and youth success by helping them to learn English and achieve in school, and culturally, socially and emotionally adjust to life in the U.S. (especially regarding their school experience). As volunteers, Lajeunesse and McGovern tutored elementary-age children, helping them with math and other subject area homework assignments, twice a week for six weeks.
On the advice of English and English as a New Language (ENL) teachers, the Shaker High School seniors did Internet research to find strategies and materials, such as simple worksheets, to use with the immigrant children to help them learn the alphabet, build their vocabulary and become more confident speaking the English language. They also read books to the children.
Lajeunesse and McGovern agreed that teaching math was a little less challenging because many of the children they helped with math could speak some English, but the majority of youngsters they worked with on literacy skills could speak no English.
“It was harder in that respect. Working with the kids on their literacy skills, a lot of it was just talking with them and reading books to them or coloring,” said McGovern. “At the end of the day, it was more about making connections with the children and helping expose them more to the language as opposed to formally trying to teach them English.”
Lajeunesse said she was surprised to learn how overcrowded many local ENL classrooms are. “Not many schools have the resources necessary to support teaching these students, many of whom just arrived here and don’t know the language,” she said. “Even though the kids go to school all day, the classes are so big, they can’t really participate in learning because they have little to no understanding of the language.”
As a fourth-generation immigrant, McGovern said volunteering with these children was an eye-opening experience.
“These kids are not born here. To see these young children and their families start life over with nothing and with little or no English skills is a level of bravery that I have never seen before,” said McGovern. “That these little kids were able to do that is incredible.”
In addition to providing academic support, Lajeunesse and McGovern helped supervise during meals and built friendships with the children by playing board games and sharing their experiences.
Bona Fide program recognizes outstanding community service of peers
Shaker High School seniors Clara Seo and Julia McGaugh were recognized for creating a new community service recognition program, called Bona Fide, through Student Government.
The Bona Fide program allows for high school students to challenge themselves to donate their time and resources throughout the school year and make a positive change in their community.
Shaker students who have performed 50 hours of community service throughout the school year receive a Shaker letter. As a recognition of outstanding service to the Shaker and wider community, Bona Fide Community Service Honor Cords are given to seniors who have completed a minimum grand total of 200 volunteer hours in the past four years of their high school career.
“These are two amazing students who created a wonderful way to acknowledge the hard work, dedication and selflessness of many of their high school peers,” said teacher Lisa Morgan. “They are an inspiration to many here at Shaker High School.”