One of the ESL teachers, Marisol Hernandez, said that she and all of the teachers really care about the children and want to help them.
“We try to provide support for the students,” she said, “not only for them to gain English proficiency, but also for them to be able to learn cognitive language, which is the language that they need to be successful to speak English.”
Hernandez handles high school and elementary levels, with her time divided by five of the city’s schools. The other ESL teacher visits the other five schools, which consist of elementary and middle schools.
Hernandez said the whole process for students to learn English as their second language can take around eight years. She said the first thing they develop is interpersonal communication language, or what they need to communicate to their peers on the playground, for example. Hernandez said that according to research, this usually takes two to three years. After that, the students move on to cognitive language.
Cognitive language usually takes five to seven years for the students to learn, and this is the language that they will be tested on in the program.
Dobyns-Bennett sophomore Maria Panozzo, who is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, said that the ESL program helped her not only learn English, but to make friends, too. Panozzo participated in the ESL program for around a year and a half. She said she knew a little English, like the words for colors and other basic words, but Panozzo needed help with the English used in conversations.
“When I got out of the class,” she said, “I started making relationships with other people.”
Hernandez said ESL students are a diverse group, but that they have something in common because they understand what it is like to move to a new school and learn English as their second language.
One thing that sets these students apart from students who were born here and speak English as their first language is the fact that some ESL students serve as translators for their parents or guardians.
Qianwei Zhou, who goes by Amanda at school, is Chinese. She knows English, but both of her parents do not. Zhou said, “Sometimes it’s hard. My mom can understand some [English] and she can speak some.” Daisy Ayala, a junior in the ESL program, said that her dad speaks English, but her mother is learning English through a program at Cloud Apartments in Kingsport.
Hernandez said the other students and people in the community are also really willing to help.
“D-B and Kingsport City Schools promote diversity, so the students are well-accepted and they’re helped,” she said. “I find that a lot of the other kids are really willing to help the students.”
This originally appeared in El Nuevo Kingsport Times-News.