By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – An expert on helping non-native students learn English has been working with Lee County School District teachers this week.
Tery Medina, associate director for The Southeastern Equity Center in Florida, has led various training exercises for teachers since Tuesday. On Thursday, she observed educators at Mooreville Elementary in the morning and provided feedback and advice to them in the afternoon.
“It is an equity issue,” Medina said. “You have kids with different needs, and you need to know about what works with those kids.”
The Lee County School District has about 65 to 70 students who are English language learners, a number that has held consistent for about the past six years, said Student Services Director Debbie Pickens. School can be more challenging for these students, who are having to learn while receiving instructions in an unfamiliar language.
It also can be difficult for teachers to overcome the communication issues.
“We need to supply the teachers with all the strategies and information we can to help the children be successful in the classroom,” Pickens said.
The district has students who speak seven or eight different languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Punjabi, Ukrainian and Chinese, but the majority of its English language learners are Spanish speakers, Pickens said.
Medina’s strategies can work for speakers of any language, she said. They include tips like being specific, repeating, talking slowly, enunciating and demonstrating. Teachers should remember the value of peer communication.
Medina also spoke about culture, the rights and responsibilities of students and of districts and the process of acquiring a second language.
“This training is helping us learn how to differentiate our instruction,” said Verona kindergarten teacher Alice Maynard Griggs.
The training was funded by a grant from Lee County School’s ExPECT organization awarded to Mooreville first-grade teacher Sherry Vance, who had attended a summer presentation by Medina.
“She gave so much information, and I knew other teachers needed it as much as I did,” Vance said. “I wanted to share it.”