The transition to a new school can present challenges for any student – but can be especially challenging for students who are new to the English language.
Recently, four students who completed Shaker Junior High School in June – Bridget Sheppeck, Meghan Schramm, Sadie Valente and Catherine Lapham – came up with an idea to help ease the transition for English language learners who are entering junior high in the fall. The students, who are also members of Girl Scouts, have turned their idea into a project as they work toward earning their Girl Scout Silver Award. Similar to an Eagle Badge in Boy Scouts, this award recognizes leadership and a commitment to making a positive difference in the community, and is the highest achievement for Girl Scouts at the cadette level (ages 11 to 14).
To research the project, the four friends, who have known each other since kindergarten at Southgate Elementary, first consulted with Jennifer Samaniuk and Amanda Klopott, two of the district’s English as a New Language (ENL) teachers, for insight on the challenges that ENL learners face and for help identifying the most common languages spoken by North Colonie’s growing ENL student population.
“Not being an ENL student, it’s hard to imagine moving to a new school where you don’t speak the language, aren’t familiar with the customs and everything is so different from what you know, even simple things,” said Sheppeck.
After discussing it with the teachers, Sheppeck, Schramm, Valente and Lapham decided that creating a digital orientation specifically for ENL students entering the junior high school would be one significant way to help. The digital orientation consists of a series of Quick Response codes (more commonly referred to as QR codes) that will be placed around the building for ENL students to scan with an iPad or smartphone at any time to unlock descriptions of key areas or features of the school – such as the library, cafeteria, auditorium, main office, bus maps and more – recorded in the six most common languages of North Colonie’s ENL population: Spanish, Urdu, Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese.
“There will be an orientation night for incoming students before school starts where the ENL students can take a walking tour using the QR codes,” Valente explained. “Then on the first day of school, they will feel less nervous because they will know where special areas are and have a better understanding of how the school works.”
Schramm who was a student in Houston Hall – the wing where ENL students at the junior high are based – said she and her friends developed a plan to share the project work. “The orientation has a total of 20 descriptions in all,” she said, “So, the four of us each wrote five paragraphs that describe the areas of the school that we are most familiar with.”
The students, who themselves are preparing to transition to the ninth grade in September, enlisted the help of volunteer translators from the community including neighbors, parents of classmates and a Shaker High School student. The volunteer translators – Hikmat Khan, Azeel Majid, Karen Porpeglia, Chae Young Seo, Yuko Stano and Wencui Zhao – met with the students at the high school to read and record the descriptions in six native languages.
Earlier in the process, the students had approached the district’s K-12 Instructional Technology Specialist Gary Cimorelli to secure his assistance with the technical parts of the project. His role involved setting up the computer equipment in advance of the recordings, uploading the recorded files to the Student Google Drive and creating QR codes for each file. (QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes containing encoded information or data, such as text, video or a URL, that can be read by electronic devices including smartphones.)
“I think it is an amazing project on many levels,” Cimorelli said. “First, it was the students’ idea; also, they are making great use of 21st century skills including technology, communication and collaboration, which are all necessary skills. Most importantly, it provides students exposure to individuals from different parts of the world and other cultures.”
Cimorelli added the project is a powerful tool that could serve as a lasting resource for the junior high school’s ENL students and be replicated in other North Colonie schools.