When you walk into Ms. Hess’ classroom at Pleasant Plains Elementary School, the warmth can be felt almost immediately, but it’s not just the sun coming through the window that warms her classroom. It’s the bright colors in the student drawings on the wall, her sizable, earnest smile, and of course, the sounds of laughter and pure happiness emanating from her students.
Ms. Hess is the English to Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, teacher at Pleasant Plains Elementary School and her most lively bunch of students this year are students from Nepal. Twenty-one Nepali students come to her classroom two to three times a week to work on improving listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. The visits also provide a space for students to share information about their cultures, their families and their personal lives as they adapt to life in America.
“I’ve been an ESOL teacher in the county for about nine years,” Hess said. “I have almost 100 ESOL students and many are from Nepal. It’s been really exciting for me to learn about their culture and their academic histories. It’s a really energetic group of students who truly love learning and it’s been a joy to work with them.”
The students recently celebrated a Nepali holiday and were encouraged to introduce their customs to their classmates.
“My friend didn’t know I was from Nepal and then I taught her how to speak some words in Nepali,” said Grade 5 student Swikritti KC. “And sometimes we help the teacher if there is a new student from Nepal also.”
Students say although they love America, especially school in America and American food (especially pizza), they miss quite a lot about their home country.
“I miss my relatives and my sister,” said Grade 5 student Prajita Shrestha. “When we have a big festival, all people come and we are together all day and we play a lot of games.”
“In Nepal kids can go anywhere,” said Atit Gurung, a Grade 3 student at Pleasant Plains. “I could go to the store and shop alone. We are able to do a lot more by ourselves.”
Although by coming to the states Nepali families at Pleasant Plains left a lot behind, they made the sacrifice in order to provide better opportunities for their children.
It helps tremendously that these students have found a community within their school; for these 21 kids, Pleasant Plains is a home away from home.
“I provide a space where students’ first languages, native cultures and unique points of view are validated and appreciated,” Hess said. “Meeting in ESOL groups helps students build relationships and make friends. Friendships formed in ESOL groups often last through middle and high school.”
By Natalie Allen, communications specialist for the Department of Communications and Community Outreach