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Immersing kids in English

By Mel Meléndez
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 25, 2002

The 5-year-olds sat by the Calendar Wall helping Keller Elementary School teacher Ron Scott identify the days and letters of the week, colors, shapes and patterns.

Much of the lesson was set to song, including a snappy little ditty about Crazy Cat, who just loves carrot cake with his cat food.

"You repeat a sound in a song, in this case the 'Ka' 'C sound' to help them learn how to pronounce and identify words that start with that letter," said Scott, a 25-year teaching veteran. "It's very effective."

Evidently, as students - most of them English learners - were later overheard emphasizing words beginning with "C" and "O," two of their letters of the week.

It's Day 25 of the school year for the 17 tykes enrolled in Scott's afternoon Sheltered English Immersion kindergarten class. Some of the monolingual Spanish-speaking students now struggle with the lessons, but most will be ready for first grade by the end of the school year, said Scott, one of two male kindergarten teachers employed by Mesa Public Schools.

"Pronunciation (in English) is a challenge at first," said the 53-year-old Scott, who's bilingual and has a second-language endorsement. "But by the end of the year, most of them are jabbering away a mile a minute."

Bilingual classroom aide Silvia Reyes helps clarify concepts and instructions to Spanish speakers.

"But it's English Immersion so I repeat everything in English, over and over again, so they'll get it," Reyes said.

Native English speakers benefit because they often pick up Spanish phrases from their classmates, Scott said.

"A lot of English-speaking parents know this and specifically request an English Immersion class for their kids," Scott said. "They see it as an added bonus for their kids to learn some Spanish as well."

By winter break in December, most will be speaking some English. They will have completed two quarter sessions of lessons in math, art, computers, number recognition and reading preparedness that focuses on learning letters and their sounds. Some journal writing with phonetic spelling will also take place.

Reading isn't the goal for kindergarten, but a handful of students, typically the older ones begin to read by the end of the school year, Scott said.

Although Keller Elementary has some kindergarten sessions with 4˝ -year-olds, the students in both of Scott's classes meet the state's former traditional cut-off date of turning 5 by Sept. 1.

"I like that because most 4-year-olds are too young to be in regular kinder," Scott said. "You can even see the difference in the kids that have just turned 5 and those who are a little older. The younger ones just don't have the same fine motor skills or the attention span to keep up in class."

Kids who attend preschool also adjust quicker to kindergarten.

"They socialize better and can concentrate more, so it's an easier adjustment for them," Scott said.

Last week, students eagerly surrounded Scott and Student of the Week Zachery Perkins, 5, who sat in the chair of honor offering clues of what he had hidden in the Mystery Can. It's fun for the kiddies, but it's also an exercise that helps build  their critical-thinking skills.

None guessed that the "round" item with "black stripes and bumps" was a minibasketball. But nobody seemed to care.

"Me gusta la escuela porque juego con mis friends (I like school because I play with my amigos)," said Jose Perez, 5, shyly covering a grin.

Reach the reporter at mel. melendez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7758.

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