High school can be difficult for any student, and even more challenging for students trying to learn English. • Lennard High School started the year with 270 students in its ESOL program — English for Speakers of Other Languages. At the end of the year, there are about 200. • The number of ESOL students at Lennard is always in flux. They're moved out of the program when they're ready, and new students come in. Some are migrant students. Many of them are from Mexico and other Hispanic countries, where they may have been working, rather than in the classroom. • Any class in English — not just language arts, but history, chemistry, biology — can be a struggle. But ESOL students at Lennard have a new classroom tool to help them.
For three years, Robert Haskins, ESOL specialist at Lennard, has worked on a Title I grant to bring more technology into the ESOL classroom. It was approved earlier this year to fund the purchase of 10 iPad minis equipped with apps and games to help the students learn English.
But the new tech is just part of the program. Right now, he has one community volunteer, Marvin Donner, 81, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania who lives in Sun City Center. Donner comes in a few times a week to tutor.
On a recent Thursday, Donner sat at a table in the classroom with a student. He said hello and they exchanged simple pleasantries. Then the student got to work, playing a word game on an iPad. It talked to her, and asked her to pick out all the pictures of things beginning with the letter T.
Donner watched, ready to help or encourage as needed. Haskins taught him how to use the iPads and computers.
"We're hoping to get some real progress going by next year with volunteers," Donner said.
They plan to start a dedicated program to bring in retirees from places like Sun City Center to work with the students. Donner and the grant approval came at the right time, Haskins said.
"We just kind of lucked into this, happenstance," he said. "It's an opportunity to expand."
It's part of the all hands on deck approach Haskins takes to ESOL.
"It's not the be all, end all," he said of the new iPads. "It's a tool, another instrument to use."
They already had Rosetta Stone, the language-learning software, in the classroom, but the iPads are an update to old supplies like flashcards.
"They're into computers and technology, so it's a great tool for them to use," Haskins said.
The students are placed in regular classes based on their age, and though they try to give them translated documents and have aides in the classrooms, "we can't be in every single class every day," Haskins said.
They're still responsible for taking notes, completing their homework, taking tests and the FCAT. It can take one to two years to understand social language, Haskins said, but five to seven years to really understand academic language.
"As a teacher, I'm up there, talking in English. I don't think anything of it, but for them, my lips are just moving," Haskins said. "They're at a disadvantage until they master the language."
Besides Donner, Haskins has a team of student volunteers, such as junior Elisa Jimenez, 18, who help and mentor their classmates. Jimenez was born here, to parents who don't speak English. For a while she lived with cousins who spoke English, but they moved. She was taken out of an ESOL program in elementary school, though she says she still struggled.
She learned from friends, and from listening to others at school. She volunteers because she knows how frustrating it is to sit in class and strain to understand.
"They're scared to ask questions, scared to talk to people," she said.
Haskins hopes to get more iPads for the classroom next year, along with more volunteers, to help the students feel more free to talk and learn.
"It builds their motivation for learning," he said.
He and Donner plan to hold a meeting in August for prospective volunteers.
"Anybody we can get in to help the kids," Haskins said.
For information on volunteering at Lennard, contact Haskins at [email protected] or (813) 641-5611.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.