Brian Nordli, Las Vegas Sun, September 21, 2014
The children gather on a rug in Mrs. O’Brien’s kindergarten classroom, ready for the morning routine.
“All right, can you show me sitting down crisscross applesauce style?” Kara O’Brien asks in a sing-songy voice.
She plays a medley of songs for 5- and 6-year-olds.
“Give them your right hand/Look them in the eye/Put a smile on your face/Then you say, ‘Hi!’”
The kids giggle and act out the words, shaking each other’s hand. Next comes a disco-tuned ABC song, then a song encouraging them to wiggle and shake.
Every song has a purpose. O’Brien and other Jydstrup Elementary School teachers have kids in their classrooms from Ethiopia to Ukraine to Brazil, each with a varying grasp on the English language. This is more than just a morning routine–it’s a way to help the students learn English and respect students from different cultures.
Such diversity isn’t unusual in a school where 37 languages are spoken and in a district with more than 85,000 students who speak 83 languages other than English. About 85 percent of the non-English speaking students speak Spanish, but also Urdu, Bulgarian, Turkish, Thai and Hindi.
“The impact of learning about other people is so (important) at kindergarten,” said O’Brien, a teacher for 14 years. “You teach kids to look on the inside rather than their appearances.”
It’s not unusual to see children speaking Oromo or Hindi to their parents before being dropped off in the morning. But once they walk through the school’s door, they speak English.
Inside Jydstrup’s cafeteria, the word “Welcome” is written in more than 20 languages on long rolls of paper. Principal David Frydman started the display to embrace diversity at his school.
The Clark County School District can’t afford to hire interpreters to transition foreign-language students into the classroom, so it’s up to the teachers, most of whom are trained in teaching English. A total of 2,000 are certified to teach English to non-English speakers, said Tracy Clark, director of the English Language Learning program.
Some students arrive understanding some English, but many understand no more than “yes” and “no.” Every child is taught in the same classroom regardless of his or her knowledge of the English language, per district policy.
It takes an average seven to 10 years for an ELL student to pass the English Language Proficiency Assessment, Clark said. The goal is to have every student able to communicate in English by the time they graduate.