ELL Student Presentations

By Caitlyn Cahill

       Following directions is pretty simple, right? Well, what if they’re in another language? On October 31st Canton High’s English Language Learner (ELL) students joined Kate Kelly and Tara Iacobucci’s American Identities classes. The students came in quietly with their hands by their sides, twisting and bending their fingers aimlessly. They avoided eye contact, often looking at the ground or their hands, but when they opened their mouths to speak their words were loud. The ELL students shared their experiences and struggles that they faced when they came to America along with personal stories and “Where I’m From Poems”. But first, they started with giving directions. Anything from stand up, walk around, jump, and touch your ear were recited to the American Identities (AI) students in language such as Creole, Canada, Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, and Chinese. They were easy directions that students have heard throughout their lives, but when given in another language confusion flashed over their faces and nervous laughter spilled from their lips. Statements like “what”, “Repeat”, “Can you say it slower?” were asked in a flurry as the ELL students finished speaking with subtle smirks graced upon their lips as they knew that they were about to refute the age old stereotypes that labeled them all as dumb just because they didn’t speak fluent english.

      ELL students shared memories of carnivals, delicious food, of butterflies, birds and ice cream with family. How they lived knee deep in traditions, and had parents who pushed them to do their best and made them feel better when they felt down. Few mentioned the strict rules that they were surrounded with: don’t wear too much makeup, no boys before 18, review even if you don’t have homework. Sounds like our households too, doesn’t it? Sophomore ELL student Spoorthi (Spur-thee) shared her new found dream of being a physciatrist. She wishes to help people that are sad, branching off from her original want to be a teacher that was slowly broken down due to the fear of all the writing and speaking and reading that comes along with that job. ELL students spoke highly of America and the opportunity that they’ve now been allowed to have but had opposite words for the people. ELL students shared encounters with bullies, close-minded teachers, and people who looked down on them just because they were confused about simple everyday sentences. Many opened up about how they felt alone going through this transition. Student Buthovas Merceron, from Haiti,  expressed how, “immigrants are just looking for better opportunity, they don’t need to be here- they want to be here”.

     When asked to reflect upon what they had just been told, AI students responded with well thought out and respectful answers. Senior Katherine Pineo who expressed how “We (Americans) expect them (non-english speakers) to know the language but when we go to places like Brazil, China, etc. we’re not expected to know their language, we expect them to know what we’re saying”. ELL students were praised by fellow classmates such as Senior Ian Ozer who presented his gratitude for not having to learn another language based on his setting. Others such as Junior Jackie Benson who said, “I have to give these people credit”. Which was followed with Teacher Kate Kelly expressing how knowing another language displays  “awesome intelligence and an awesome skill”. She also shared her fascination on how they learn so quickly, especially those who haven’t even been here a year yet hold a strong understanding of English. Student Anis Chakir declared his envy for the ELL students focus wishing that he had it, while teacher Tara Iacobucci voiced how she would love to learn another language. And then the conversation really started when freshman ELL student Joseph Wahba spoke quietly while playing with his hands and hiding his face with papers, but his question was far from quiet. “We’re talking about it now, but what will change? What happens when we leave, what’s going to change”.

    The class quieted in contemplation, his question soaked into the students while Teacher Tara Iacobucci spoke out about how with a conscious effort we can make a change to our actions and “that’s a tiny little spark”. Junior Buthovas Merceron piggy backed upon her statement stating how “Canton High can change but it will take time- and it’ll have to be a priority”. In a class that's all about the discussion of hard topics, there were some the spoke out with opposing views such as Senior Dan Alice who declared how he doesn’t think it will change. He believes that there’s always “going to be that person who’s going to be like ‘hey, look at that person who doesn’t speak English’”. He expressed how there’s always going to be ignorant people and that society is how it is when it comes to the treatment of others reciting the old age analogy, “I can only lead a horse to water, I can’t make it drink”.

    So, here's the real question- What if this article was in another language? Would you bother?  Would you care? What if you didn’t have a choice?