Helping non-English speaking students thrive - South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

Helping non-English speaking students thrive

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Come Monday, many parents will be sending their children to school for the start of a new year. However, what if your child doesn't know English?

There are about 2,000 students in the Port Arthur Independent School District that do not speak English as a primary language, but English as a Second Language, or ESL, teachers are there to help.

It's a common misconception that students who don't know English are taught by teachers who can speak their native language, but that's not the case.

After the second grade, students are put into ESL classes and learn from teachers who don't know their language.

"They adapt to it, and I always commend them," said Gussie Cohea.

Cohea was a teacher for 38 years before retiring, but she came back four years ago to Thomas Jefferson Middle School to teach student who don't know English. 

"I love teaching them. I feel more international," said Cohea.

Her now empty classroom will be filled with students speaking Vietnamese, African languages, Russian and Spanish, but she only communicates with them in English.

Looking around an ESL classroom, you'll see everything from the ABC's, to punctuation, to the parts of speech. That shows that even though these students don't know English, they're still expected to live up to the same standards as other students.

"It is a challenge, It is a challenge for them," said Thomas Jefferson Middle School Principal Dr. Barbara Polk, Ed.D. "You have a child who not only had a problem with language but also challenged with learning the language and to be proficient in all areas. it's gratifying to know we have been a part of making that change in their lives."

Cohea uses pictures and other techniques  to help students understand in English and language arts classes.     

Other classes like math and science are not taught under an ESL certified teacher.

"I try to pair them with other students," said Cohea.

Those students are called buddies. They can help translate for a student who doesn't know English if needed.

Cohea says ESL students not only have to over come language barriers, they also have to overcome social and cultural  issues.

"They come from some dire conditions that we can't understand in America," said Cohea.

Cohea says she is inspired when she sees her children walk out her classroom more confident, and she says that's what America is about.

Dr. Polk says ESL teachers are always needed because of the growing number of non-English speaking students. 

Once these students test out of the ESL classes, normally between middle and high school, teachers say they usually score better on tests than students who only know English.