The Northern Westchester Examiner

Ossining Students Teach Young Peers through Summer Language Partner Groups

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When rising Ossining High School senior Clio Sanchez was a young girl in Ecuador, she went on a trip to Disney World and other U.S. destinations. She became so excited about learning English that her parents gave her lessons as a gift. She studied English for three hours every Friday for more than two years.

After two years in Ossining, Sanchez gave the gift of her English and Spanish skills to children in the Summer Language Partner Groups pilot initiative. She taught English to kindergarteners who are learning the language, and Spanish to third and fourth graders in the Dual Language Program.

“I love how kids are so passionate about it,” she said. “They really like it. They’re really practicing. At such young ages, they know a lot. What I like the most is they’re engaged.”

Nancy de la Cruz-Arroyo, director of bilingual and English as a new language programs, proposed the groups after receiving requests from parents who wanted children to practice their second language. About 125 families with children in kindergarten through sixth grade signed up.

Throughout July 23, Ossining High School volunteers ran online practice groups of four to nine students each, said English as a New Language teacher Elizabeth Testa, who helped run the program. She and Ms. de la Cruz-Arroyo created a structure and curriculum-related themes as a guide and encouraged volunteers to be creative and have fun.

“The volunteers really took ownership of their groups and it’s always great to see what they come up with,” Testa said, adding that groups met for at least a half hour twice a week. “We really wanted it to be kind of a student-led program that engages our teens with younger kids in our community.”

Many volunteers learned English as a new language or went through the Dual Language Program and are now at OHS. “It’s kind of a way to give back to the program,” Testa said.

The district is considering continuing the program during the school year.

Volunteers met virtually each week to share their experiences and teaching strategies. De la Cruz-Arroyo said in a recent meeting that parents were grateful for the program and volunteers.

It is a difficult summer for families because of the pandemic, she said. “So to be able to have this opportunity to engage with someone that they probably look up to and to practice their language and see their friends – because they’re seeing you but they’re also seeing their friends or making new friends in the Dual Language Program – I think that’s amazing,” she said.

Alexa Shaw, a rising junior, said she volunteered because it was a great opportunity to keep up with Spanish and help younger students. Running a group forced her to create games and other fun activities to keep her rising second and third graders engaged. “As a non-native Spanish speaker in the Dual Language Program, I would have loved the opportunity to converse with an older student,” she said.

Rising junior Katherin Vera, who worked with rising fifth and sixth graders on their Spanish, said the program and kids were “amazing.”

“I actually love being in front of them and seeing their faces and how excited they get when they learn something new,” she said.

Vera came to the United States from Ecuador six years ago and had to learn English. She often reaches out to new students in similar situations and feels strongly about using her abilities to assist other people.

“Being bilingual is very important to me,” she said. “If we know it, we need to help others.”

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