Seven adults for whom Spanish is their native language now speak better English as the result of taking an English-as-a-second-language class at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
The key to their success was 14 high school students, mostly Spanish III students, who volunteered as tutors during the eight-week class taught by RBHS Spanish teacher Jessica Mauritzen two nights a week.
The students were assigned to work one-on-one with the adults, which resulted in very personalized instruction geared to each adult’s level.
“Adults are coming in with different experiences, different interests, different reasons for wanting to learn,” Mauritzen said. “It’s very personalized. The kids were basically my means of being able to achieve that.”
Three RBHS students, juniors Natalie Moore, Carly Surprenant and Tatiana Reeves, worked with Sotero Barraza.
The students gave Barraza tongue twisters to work on his pronunciation.
“He definitely got better, a lot,” Moore said.
The adults enjoyed working with teenagers.
“I have trouble talking, and the girls made me feel confident, because they have a lot of patience with us,” said Anastacia Romero. “I feel comfortable talking with the girls. They are so kind with us.”
The RB students learned a lot from volunteering. They built close bonds and friendships with the adults they worked with and learned how difficult it is to function in society with limited English proficiency.
Those bonds were on display last week as the eight-week class came to an end and the students awarded certificates to the adults they worked with and hugs were exchanged.
“I learned a lot about her personal life and everything,” said junior Samantha Schelthoff, who worked with Romero.
Ada Leiva, who left Guatemala because it wasn’t safe for her, said that working with students made it less threatening for her to try to speak English.
“I lost the fear of speaking, because I had to interact with the students,” Leiva said to a reporter in Spanish with Mauritzen translating.
Sophomore Emily Filec, who worked with Yolanda Ramirez, said that tutoring was learning experience for her, too.
“I’ve learned to have a lot more patience and the kind of courage that it takes for somebody to step out of their comfort zone and learn a new language,” Filec said.
“You get to see the work the teachers put in to make sure we learn everything, to do their job. Maybe someday I’d like to be a teacher, so it was a good experience to kind of get a feel for that.”
Ramirez said Filec was an excellent tutor.
“She helped me a lot,” Ramirez said. “She answered every question that I had.”
The RBHS students also improved their own Spanish skills by working with the adults.
“We were forced to use a ton of Spanish,” said junior Colleen Cody.
The class was free to adults whose children attend RB or one of its feeder schools, $30 for those who did not have children in any of the local school districts.
In the past Triton College has offered ESL classes at RBHS, but those classes require much larger enrollments and offer less-personalized instruction.
One secondary aim of the class was to allow the school to build closer relationships with the Spanish-speaking parents of RBHS students. With better English skills and more confidence, it is hoped that the parents will feel more comfortable interacting with teachers and school administrators and possible play a more active role in their children’s education.
Mauritzen credited RB Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Tim Scanlon with playing an important role in starting the class.