They speak Spanish, Dari, French, Georgian, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese and other languages. Welcome to the HIAS PA-School District of Philadelphia Summer Enrichment Program serving 90 fifth to eighth grade English Language Learners (ELLS) in Spruance Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia. In the morning The Philadelphia School District provided teachers who taught 1 ½ hours of English as a Second Language and 1 ½ hours of science lessons. In the afternoon HIAS PA’s teaching artists, bi-lingual class aides and volunteers used art, drama, music and movement to reinforce English language learning. Among the volunteers were high school and college students, including students from Barrack Hebrew Academy and Harvard University. The program was coordinated by HIAS PA’s Refugee Education Coordinator, Valeri Harteg who, in the short time she has been on staff, has increased collaborations and programming for ELL students.
On July 21st, I visited the program and the students were engaged, enthusiastic and wanted to show me their art book, the stories they wrote, the short plays they acted out and the music they could make. One story involved a 10 year old who built a house for an old man (see below); another described a child of the same age working many jobs to save money to come to the U.S. A.
In the music class the students had “boom whackers” which are tubes in different lengths and colors, with each length and color producing a “note” when they were gently hit on the arm. In this way the students could coordinate a color with a note and also learn about why the different lengths produce a different sound. They play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” matching the colors on a screen with their one colored “boom whacker.” The highlight of the visit was the rhyming poem they made to a simple chant. The teacher asked the students to fill in the blanks to this statement:
If I were President of the USA_____________is what I would say
And here’s what they came up with:
If I was President of the USA never lose hope is what I would say.
If I was President of the USA, give money to the needy is what I would say.
If I was President of the USA, promote education is what I would say.
If I was President of the USA, no war is what I would say.
What timely messages as we look to the Presidential election!
This program was an amazing success and a model of what can be done, not only to increase learning, but to promote respect for diversity. These students are our future; I was moved by their ability to not just get along, but collaborate. It was a nice antidote to the violence and hate-filled rhetoric of the recent months.