Archive for Sunday, November 9, 2008

ESL school excels in variety

Nearly 30 languages are spoken by Hillcrest School students. Here, students welcome you to Hillcrest in their native tongues.

November 9, 2008


Hillcrest School sixth-graders, from left, Jay Xayasaeng, of Laos, Sebastian Joseph and Alex Mwithiga, of Kenya, work through transformational geometry Thursday at the school, 1045 Hilltop Drive. Many international students make up the student body.

Hillcrest School sixth-graders, from left, Jay Xayasaeng, of Laos, Sebastian Joseph and Alex Mwithiga, of Kenya, work through transformational geometry Thursday at the school, 1045 Hilltop Drive. Many international students make up the student body.

Different nations, languages spoken

Hillcrest School is one of the most diverse locations in the city. Students from 27 foreign countries attend the elementary school; they speak 28 foreign languages.

Here are the countries represented, followed by the number of students:

Bolivia, 1; Bulgaria, 1; China, 11; Colombia, 2; Congo, 2; Costa Rica, 1; Czech Republic, 1; Egypt, 2; Ethiopia, 2; Guatemala, 1; India, 4; Iran, 3; Iraq, 1; Japan, 4; Jordan, 1; Kenya, 2; Mexico, 15; Myanmar, 4; Nigeria, 1; Puerto Rico, 1; Russia, 2; Saudi Arabia, 8; South Korea, 10; Sri Lanka, 1; Taiwan, 1; Uruguay, 1; Zimbabwe, 1.

Languages spoken:

Amharic, Arabic, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cantonese, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hindi, Igbo, Ilocano, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Laotian, Mandarin, Marathi, Navajo, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Shona, Sinhalese, Spanish, Swahili/ Kiswahili, Telegu, Vietnamese.

When Shabina Kavimandan first entered Hillcrest School six years ago, she was immediately drawn to something near and dear to her heart: The Indian flag.

"The first thing I saw was the flag of my country, and a huge map of all the kids from around the world," said Kavimandan, an English-as-a-Second-Language coach at Hillcrest, 1045 Hilltop Drive. "At that moment, my heart was sold to this country."

It was a welcome sight for Kavimandan, who came to Hillcrest from Kansas State University. She entered perhaps the most diverse building in Lawrence, where today 28 countries and five continents are represented, and 28 languages, including English, are spoken. Of the roughly 450 students, about 300 speak a foreign language.

Welcome to Hillcrest

For years, Hillcrest was the only ESL elementary school in the Lawrence school district. Today there are four others, but it still trumps the others in diversity.

From Navajo to Nihong, Laotian to Igbo and everything in between, Hillcrest speaks to the world. Many students are children of Kansas University students and professors, said Principal Tammy Becker.

Teachers paint an idyllic picture of cross-cultural sharing and harmony that is almost hard to believe. But they are persistent in saying that at Hillcrest, conflict is minimal and learning is optimal.

"We're at the forefront of things. We've got so much to learn every day," said first-grade teacher Kim Walker.

At Hillcrest, teachers say, students find a place where assimilation is fostered by diversity, even when English is a challenge.

"The kids do not see differences. They see each other as individuals all coming together," Becker said. "We recognize differences, but it doesn't set us apart."

Cultural awareness

At Hillcrest, Cinco de Mayo is just May 5. Black History Month is simply February. Ramadan is just another month.

"Every day is a celebration of cultures," Kavimandan said.

Each student has the opportunity to share his or her culture one day a year. On Thursday, a Chinese student and his mother were showing students traditional Chinese trinkets that represent different personalities.

Kavimandan said students benefit by learning about one another, recognizing differences and not being afraid to learn about yourself.

"When they have the opportunity to share their culture, it gives them the opportunity to teach," said Jessica Larsen, a sixth-grade ESL teacher.

They also learn to make adaptations.

Sixth-grade teacher Kendra Metz said a Muslim student felt left out last year during Ramadan, when the class had snack time as he fasted. The class elected to eliminate their snacks so he could remain included.

In turn, the student surprised his classmates later with a snack party.

Academic challenges

Hillcrest was one of three Lawrence elementary schools that did not meet the state's adequate yearly progress, part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Metz said she's heard complaints from people who say that the large number of English language learners are at fault for keeping scores below standards. But they don't take into account the big picture, she said.

"Good teaching is good teaching. When we teach differently to teach those kids with language difficulties, it does not slow down the other children," she said.

In fact, she argues, the cultural education they receive is an enrichment that can't be graded. And sometimes, the students even become teachers.

Metz said she learned the Korean phrase for "hello" to greet parents. In showing students photos of an eroded riverbed, Metz learned that one Congolese student used to swim in such a river, giving the entire class a tangible way to learn.

'We're all a minority'

At the school's entrance, several dozen flags line the hallway. In one classroom, clocks denoting the time in countries - like Ireland, Vietnam and Argentina - hang on the wall. As children banter in Chinese outside the school, this much is clear, according to Metz: "We're all a minority here.

"Here, being different is the norm."


4paz 9 years, 7 months ago

Our son went to HillCrest and had friends from all over the world. It's a great school. It's also refreshing to here about good schools. Usually the stories are about schools that are failing, and people think that they represent the majority of US schools. The majority of US schools are successful.

Confrontation 9 years, 7 months ago

The ESL programs in Lawrence schools benefit all the students. Keep up the great work!

sustainabilitysister 9 years, 7 months ago

Thank you Alexander Parker for the nice article on Hillcrest Elementary School. It's an amazing place! I must correct your choice of wording in the article. Hillcrest teachers and staff do not foster assimilation, they foster acculturation.

AverageCitizen 9 years, 7 months ago

I would have loved to have gone to a school with this much diversity. I would have been excited to reach my classroom every day with this opportunity to learn about the world from their own citizens. Great article and program!

mammaweeks3 9 years, 7 months ago

Our family has been a part of Hillcrest for 6 years. We as a family have learned a great deal from our experiences at Hillcrest. Several years ago I found that my sons had friends from 16 different countries, wow I never had that growing up! The diversity of Hillcrest has taught my children tolerance and acceptance of all differences. I have often said that if students at Hillcrest were to begin to point at those different than themselves they would have to point almost everyone. These differences have also taught me many lessons. I grew up in a predominantly white suburban town and did not have any diversity in my town or , other than economic.I have gained so much as a parent of a Hillcrest student. When my kids have their friends over I have to ensure that the food we serve is culturally appropriate for that child as are the activities, that has taught my kids to try new things. I have seen my children grow from their knowledge of other cultures by teaching me what other cultures believe in. My children have also been able to be themselves at Hillcrest by being able to adopt a vegetarian diet to dying their hair different colors to show who they are. I have embraced this diversity and have felt as if my children were gaining a priceless experience by attending Hillcrest. The learning at Hillcrest has been more than adequate in ways that may not show up on state assessments. Schools are often too driven by state assessment scores and not the life lessons that children gain from experiences. Those lessons do not show up on any SAT exams or placement test but they will take you further in life than any state assessment score ever could.

Paul R Getto 9 years, 7 months ago

This is what America, and our public schools, are all about. There are school systems where 80 or more languages are represented. Despite tremendous odds, many schools succeed, and countless immigrants are at least given a chance at the American dream. Tens of millions of English-speaking students are also enriched by their experiences in public schools and their interactions with students from around the world.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 7 months ago

So refreshing to read something positive. Thanks

bearded_gnome 9 years, 7 months ago

very nice indeed! any kids with disabilities?

csk 9 years, 7 months ago

Yes, both native English speakers and ESL students with disabilities.

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