Six years ago, Sterling resident Kathy Lague traveled to Paris. "I couldn’t speak French at all," she said. "It was really scary. It made me realize what it must be like for people who cannot speak English in Loudoun County."
Lague is active in the Loudoun County public school system. "It is important to be involved in the school system," Lague said. "Parents need to understand what is going on at their child’s school."
IN AN EFFORT to bridge the gap between home and school, Lague proposed the idea of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for parents of River Bend Middle and Potomac Falls High School students.
"If parents speak English at home, it will help the students," Lague said. "It will help them get involved, too."
The program is partly funded by Loudoun County’s Adult Education Program, The Redskins Foundation, The Loudoun Education Foundation and a Potomac Falls High School grant. Parents also pay $25 for 10 classes.
"The idea behind that was, if parents attend 80 percent of the classes, that is eight out of 10 classes, they get their money back," Lague said.
ESL classes are offered at River Bend Middle School Tuesday nights, from 7 to 10 p.m. River Bend Middle School ESL teacher, Krista Peterson, teaches some of her students’ parents in class. "Kathy asked me to teach the class," Peterson said. "It is the best thing you can do for the kids. Chances are they will learn a little bit quicker if their parents are speaking English at home."
The energetic teacher bounces around the classroom, making gestures to ensure her students understand what she is saying in English. "We are going to go over some fun things," she said at last week’s class.
AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS, Peterson asked students to introduce themselves by name and country of origin. The class represented countries from around the globe, including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Germany, India and Indonesia.
Juan and Eva Ovalle are from Colombia. The husband and wife moved with their two daughters to Sterling two years ago. Isabella is an eighth-grader and former student of Peterson’s and Isabella is a sixth-grader and currently enrolled in Peterson’s class. "The school sent a sheet home about the class," Juan Ovalle said. "We signed up because it is necessary to talk to everyone. We have a very good teacher. It is a very good class."
Potomac Falls High School principal David Spage visited the class to answer parent’s questions about high school and the transition from middle school to high school and high school to adulthood.
"David Spage has been extremely supportive," Lague said. Parents asked questions about their children’s schedules, including lunch times and when school begins and ends. Spage introduced parents to the high school’s program of studies, an informational book of classes offered at school. "This has a description for every class we offer in English and Spanish, to work your child’s way toward graduation," Spage said. "It is all in your program of studies. You need to know this as best as you possibly can."
Parents asked questions about foreign language classes. "We offer French, Spanish, German, Latin and sign language," Spage said. "They're offered through the AP [Advanced Placement] level." He also encouraged parents to tell their children to get involved.
"It means success," he said. "It gives them a sense of involvement."
Spage highlighted the school’s career center. "You can find scholarships, financial aid there," he said. "There are lots of different things you can do."
Principal of River Bend High School Ben Lacey will answer parents’ questions at the Tuesday, Oct. 25 class. Lague said Lacey has been supportive of the project, as well.
AFTER THE INFORMATION SESSION, Peterson went over vocabulary with the students. Peterson taught important vocabulary words about clothing, money and time. Peterson explains the difference between bills and coins, convenience and department stores, and watches and clocks. They ask her how to pronounce words, like receipt, in English. "Sometimes in English, there are no rules," Peterson said.
Across the hall, students volunteer to watch children of students in the class. "Bring your kids, big or small, they can come," Peterson said. "Tell them to bring a book or homework."
Thirty-six parents requested to be part of the ESL class. "We could only take 20 out of 36," Lague said. "My goal is to have the school system realize the benefits." She would like to see ESL classes for parents offered at more schools in eastern Loudoun, "if not countywide," she said.