English as a New Language students improve skills during preschool reading project

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Student with book reading to child

Scecina freshman Stephanie Meza reads a picture book to a girl at Holy Spirit’s early childhood program

By Beth Murphy, Director of Marketing Communications

The preschool kids squirm a bit, as preschoolers do. Mostly, though, they are enthralled and especially happy about the special attention from the Scecina students reading picture books to them.

It’s a rainy February morning outside, but warm and cozy inside the Holy Spirit Catholic School preschool room. The smallest ones are blissfully unaware that the teen-agers reading to them in English are still learning the language. Many were born outside the United States. Reading in English can pose a challenge for them. It does not come easily.

The readers are students in Mrs. Amy Fix’s English as a New Language (ENL) class at Scecina. The 35 ENL students speak four different native languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Mrs. Fix’s plan was for the students to improve their English by creating the reading and literacy program and reading aloud to children. She first conceived of the idea in the summer of 2019 while studying as an ENL Hernandez Fellow at the University of Notre Dame. By the early months of 2020, she saw the effect: Students’ reading comprehension scores were way up, which will help them in all other subjects they take at Scecina.

The students’ journey began in August 2019, just after school started. First, there was preparation to do, which also helped strengthen their English skills. The Scecina students:

  • did research about illiteracy
  • wrote a proposal for — and were awarded — a grant of $250 for each of her three classes from generationOn, a youth division of Points of Light
  • Created flyers for the preschoolers’ parents about literacy and the benefits of reading to children
  • Researched what type of books to read to preschoolers (the grants would pay for the books, which they then would donate to the preschool teachers)
  • Made oral persuasive presentations to the principals of the elementary schools where they proposed reading to the preschoolers.

Then in December and February, they visited Catholic preschools at Holy Spirit, St. Philip Neri, and Little Flower and the Ransburg Y to read to kids.

“It was an awesome experience to go through,” said senior Stephanie Garcia. “You can tell the kids enjoyed us reading to them because they didn’t want us to leave.”

student reading to preschooler

Sophomore Ani Ximeyo reads to a preschooler at Holy Spirit. Students in English as a New Language classes at Scecina boosted their own English reading, writing, and speaking scores with their reading/literacy program.

“From the teachers’ and administrators’ view, they gave us good feedback and comments for the next time because they hoped we could continue doing this. From our side, as students who directly do this, we enjoy it so much,” said senior Giao Huynh.

“Since I read to the little kids, it helped me improve my listening skills as well as speaking skills, and it also taught me on how to teach my little brother on how to read and pay attention whenever someone is reading to him or talking to him,“ said sophomore Carlos Bautista Mejia.

Not too surprisingly, the students’ English speaking, reading, and writing skills improved.

“I did see an improvement,” said Mrs. Fix, “and what I saw even more was an improvement in their confidence. They were just so much more secure in who they were and in using their language. One girl especially was shy about using her language. She recently made a Teacher Appreciation video, and that was really a huge step for her. So their English did improve, no doubt.”

Seeing the student progress in proficiency as well as confidence “was so fun,” said Mrs. Fix.

“I started thinking about this as I was at Notre Dame,” she said. “It was cool to see how they brought it together. The other exciting thing is what they learned about literacy. They said things like, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to make sure I read to my kids.’ That’s a seed planted, a tangible way they can improve their future children’s success.

“That blows me away.”


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