Teaching Success in Keene

Keene, New Hampshire, a town of 23,000 people, is about 20 miles from SIT Graduate Institute and enrolls 3,787 students in its K-12 public school system.  Keene has two full-time teachers of English to speakers of other languages, both alumni of SIT, who were featured in Saturday’s Keene Sentinel (January 9, 2010).

Reading between the lines below, note the learner-focused approaches to teaching and, especially, the thoughtful and engaging integration of the students’ identities into their learning.  The teachers’ sense of delight in their serious work is obvious.

Culture club

Above, pupil Mann Patel works on his English skills in class Thursday at Franklin School in Keene. Below, teacher Morris Kimura works with pupils at the school.

Keene program helps immigrants adjust to region

By Sarah Palermo, 
Sentinel Staff

Published: Saturday, January 09, 2010

What did you have for breakfast? It seems like a simple question. But in Morris Kimura’s classroom, it reveals what makes his students unique, and what brings them together.

Typical answers Kimura, a teacher at Keene’s Franklin School, receives: oatmeal, orange juice and Pop Tarts. But there’s also rice.

“Some of the kids go, ‘Oh, you eat rice for breakfast! Why do you do that?’ ” Kimura said, laughing. “But it is a chance to talk about everyone’s culture, and they love that. The kids love finding the commonalities” among their differing cultures.

Kimura is one of two teachers in the Keene School District’s English Language Learners program; the other is Jack Timmons.

The program began more than 20 years ago with one teacher serving students — most often from Vietnam, Cambodia or Puerto Rico — in all six city schools.

In the 1990s, district officials realized it was inefficient to have the teacher traveling between the buildings, so Franklin became the magnet school for all students eligible for English-language services. Both Timmons and Kimura work there with elementary students.

Timmons, who joined the program 11 years ago, also works with students at Keene Middle School, and Kimura, who began this work five years ago, works with students at Keene High School.

Both are graduates of the School for International Training in Brattleboro. In fact, “pretty much anyone in this region doing this work is a graduate” of the master’s of education program there, Timmons said.

The Keene program serves 34 students in the city who are learning English this year. That’s up from a little more than 20 students last year — and the district is projecting another 12 percent increase next year.

The 2000 census reported that 2.7 percent of the city’s population was born outside the United States. More than 6 percent of households spoke primarily a language other than English, according to the U.S. Census.

More recent data is available at the county level: In 2008, about 5 percent of students in Cheshire County primarily spoke a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census.

“It’s impossible to predict” how many students will qualify for services each year, Timmons said. “We don’t know if we’ll have one family with eight children move in the first week of school.”

Though neither teacher is sure why the number of immigrants in the Elm City is increasing, they guessed some of the large companies in town are bringing in more international workers.

At the beginning of each year, students who aren’t native English speakers take a federally mandated test. If the student scores below a certain level, he or she is eligible for services.

All of the students’ classes are taught in English, in an immersion method to learn the language.

Timmons and Kimura teach students in groups according to their English skill, not necessarily their grade level, and work with regular classroom teachers to monitor the students’ progress.

They focus on the students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and teach content in math, science and other classes at the same time.

They also explain American culture, life in Keene, and Franklin School, and help the students share their own culture, Timmons said.

“We try to help them discover … the balance between the two cultures within themselves. Sometimes the values of the two clash (which is) very confusing for kids,” he said.

They also often help families find services in the community, and adjust to life in Keene. Winter is a big adjustment for many, and they have to make sure all families know what they need for cold-weather clothing: from hats and coats to boots, mittens and scarves, they said.

The teachers also can’t predict if a new family will add to the litany of languages their students speak. Currently, it includes Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, and three languages spoken in India: Gujerati, Punjabi and Telegu.

A poster outside the teachers’ classroom and office in the Franklin School basement displays the curls and lines of these various languages.

Parents signed the poster in their native languages during an International Night this fall. So many families attended, the event had to be moved to a bigger room in the school to accommodate the crowd and the home-cooked dishes they brought to share, Timmons said.

“It was the best meal I’ve had in months,” he said.

The high attendance made the event a success because it wasn’t just about the parents meeting the teachers, but about them meeting each other, Kimura said.

“We wanted them to feel they are not the only immigrants,” he said, “that they are part of a community.”

Sarah Palermo can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or spalermo@keenesentinel.com

Read the article in context.

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