CARNEGIE, Pa. (AP) – David Temple walks around the second floor classroom at Carnegie Elementary School, bouncing from student to student as he reviews their homework.
The students, seated at small desks, leaf through their exercise books and compare their answers to those sitting around them while they wait for Mr. Temple to reach them.
It would be a typical daytime scene in Carnegie – one of two elementary schools in the Carlynton School District – but it wasn’t a normal classroom. Instead of primary school students, adults from many countries filled the room – immigrants and refugees eager to learn and improve their English skills at night in a school where many of their children attend during the day.
“They can’t do it fast enough,” Temple said during a short break from class on a Tuesday evening in October. “They want so badly to be, not integrated into society, but they want to know what’s going on.”
Carlynton began a one-of-a-kind partnership with Literacy Pittsburgh this year to offer four adult English classes each week to parents and guardians of immigrant and refugee children in the district and other members of the community.
Mr. Temple, a longtime ESL teacher who volunteers with Literacy Pittsburgh, leads classes attended by students primarily from countries in South America and the Middle East.
Classes allow the district to build trust with parents of students in the district who may need more help due to their language barrier. And students in the class have a variety of motivations, ranging from wanting to better understand the world around them to helping their children with homework.
Nai Ong Hlain Paing Nyan, an immigrant from Mon State, Myanmar, said he was delighted to have the opportunity to learn English at the same school as his children – a boy and a girl – attend during the day.
“I’m so happy to come to class because my kids come here too,” he said. “I want to help my children.
The idea of English classes for adults developed over a period of time that began with the desire of teachers and staff at Carlynton to better meet the mental health needs of students about two years ago, according to Donald Alexander, second grade teacher at Carnegie.
The school contacted the Allegheny Health Network and adopted a program called the Chill Project, which provides counseling services to families and provides students with a physical space in the school building to go to if they are experiencing anxiety. The program helped the district, but some families were still not fully benefiting from it.
“What we noticed was that we really had a hard time reaching parents of students who did not speak English, or (we) had problems when trying to meet these families and use an interpreter.” , said Mr. Alexander.
Mr Alexander contacted Gisele Barreto Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s second lady and a former undocumented immigrant, whom he had never met but recognized as someone from the community who might be able to help with issues affecting immigrant and refugee families. Literacy Pittsburgh ambassador Ms Fetterman suggested the school contact the organization to see if they could work together, and this ultimately led to English classes for adults.
The communities that make up the Carlynton School District – Carnegie, Crafton and Rosslyn Farms – have a lower than average but growing immigrant population. The district serves 95 ESL students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, representing 16 different languages.
Learning English takes active engagement, said Temple. He moves through various activities during the 90-minute lessons and keeps his students alert by inviting them to participate.
He begins an evening class by examining multisyllabic words.
“Does anyone have a three syllable word?” he asks.
A woman raises her hand and says, “Girl?
“No,” Mr. Temple said before another student quickly shouted, “Grandpa? “Yes, grandfather,” said Mr. Temple.
“How about a four syllable word?” Mr. Temple asks. No one answers this time.
“Oh, I have a good one,” Mr. Temple said. “Argentina.”
He moved the class to other exercises.
“What is your size?” Mr. Temple asks a woman.
She thought for a moment, then said, “5-6. “
“Yes, that’s all you need (to say),” Mr. Temple replies.
He passes to another student. “What is your size?” he asks a man.
“Uh, 5-6,” the man replies.
“Fortunately, guess,” Mr. Temple said. “Everyone here is 5-6. This is the 5-6 club.
Before class ends, he asks the students if they know about Halloween and treats. He explains that little boys and girls dress up and go door-to-door with bags to collect candy.
He tells them that his granddaughter disguises herself as a dragon and that her grandson disguises herself as a turtle.
“Do not be afraid,” Mr. Temple said. “It’s all for fun. “
To ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of the classes, the school has opened them up to any immigrant or refugee in the community – not just parents of students in the district. The school advertised classes at the Attawheed Islamic Center in Carnegie, which helped it increase the number of programs.
About twenty students from Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan and elsewhere attend classes every Tuesday and Thursday, the least proficient in English coming in the early evening and those with a better command of the language coming later at night.
Literacy Pittsburgh purchases textbooks and classroom materials, in part with funding from the state Department of Education. Donations from individuals, businesses and foundations helped provide other materials.
Mr. Alexander said he saw student confidence grow just in the first few weeks of class. But what’s even more important than their language skills, he said, is that the class creates a level of support and inclusion for some members of the Carlynton community who might otherwise feel left out.
“I don’t just want the kids to feel comfortable when they’re here,” Alexander said. “I want their families to feel welcome as well, and I really want to see them feel like they have a future here in Carnegie.”