How Vardaman is helping EL students cross the education barrier

VARDAMAN, Miss. (WCBI) – The learning gap in America can be quite large for students whose first language is not English.

Many school districts in the area struggle to find and keep English learning teachers.

In Vardaman, between high school and elementary, there are over 100 students who are in the EL program and only two EL teachers.

WCBI spoke with teachers and administrators about the program and how they help those students succeed.

Brandi Bray has been the high school EL teacher at Vardaman for six years.

Teaching 26 non-English students how to speak the language can be a daily challenge and she said the first step to helping them learn was teaching herself.

“I had to learn how to break it down enough away with sounds and phonics. A way that I would not overwhelm them and a way that would excite them,” said Bray.

When a non-English speaking student comes to the school, they fill out a home-language survey to see if they are in need of services.

Principal Timothy Cook said when they identify those students they will start with the learning basics.

“It could be for example that our students come from another country they don’t know how to speak English and we will take them at our basic level and use flashcards, the alphabet, phonics, and things like that. Anytime you would go to a new country and learn a new language you have to start at the beginning,” said Cook.

Because the program is so large, they have even involved primary English-speaking students to help their peers.

“We use a buddy system where we will put them with another student who knows that language and they will kind of walk around from class to class with them and introduce them and interpret for them,” said Cook.

Bray said it’s important for her to create a bond with her students.

This helps to decrease their anxiety and helps them get excited to learn.

“When they learn something for the first time they get really excited..they are all excited to learn. Once they become more comfortable with me and then they can start to relax and know that they can trust me they all get excited to learn,” said Bray.

With graduation just days away, she said the most rewarding part is seeing her students walk across the stage.

“I get excited to see them reach their goals. Thats our number one goal is that they are going to graduate and that’s what we work towards but when I see them do it it is so rewarding .. that they feel successful. I want them to feel like they have succeeded in something,” said Cook.

Both Cook and Bray said the program wouldn’t be anywhere it is today without the continued support from all their faculty and staff.

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