In one Easthampton classroom, students are the best teachers

In one Easthampton classroom, students are the best teachers

Gazette Contributing Writer 12345

Photo: Cultural exchange

Jamie Zarvis, a teacher at Maple Elementary School who works with children learning English as a second language, brings her students into other classrooms to share lessons about their cultures.

Third-grader Anouar Zabir and fourth-grader Abdullah Arshad carefully traced, from right to left, the Arabic greeting “As-Salamu Alaykum” during a lesson last month for students in Margaret Betts’ first-grade class at Maple Elementary School in Easthampton.

“You missed a part,” called out one student. He was referring to an untraced dot that completed one of the letters in the foreign alphabet.

Used as a salutation, the phrase translates to “Peace be upon you.” It’s a sentiment that teacher Jamie Zarvis, who works with Maple Elementary School students who are learning English as a second language, hopes will be fostered by the cross-cultural lessons.

“I think it is great for students to present their own cultural background,” said Zarvis. “It leads to an atmosphere of tolerance.”

Zarvis frequently has her students visit other classrooms to share aspects of their cultures.

On May 25 Anouar, from Morocco, and Abdullah, from Saudi Arabia, were teaching Betts’ first-graders about Arabic as part of an ongoing unit on foreign countries.

The idea for the lessons was planted when Betts realized that six of her students have parents or grandparents who were born in a foreign country or who live in one now.

Jack Belcher-Timme’s maternal grandparents retired to Mexico, where they have lived for 20 years. Jessica Cloutier’s paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Canada. Mateo Navaro’s father came to the United States from El Salvador when he was a teenager. Both Jade Pastomerlo and Madison Thouin have stepfathers who grew up in Jamaica. Abigail Achmad’s father was born in Indonesia.

On May 25, the lesson was focused on Morocco, the birthplace of Maria Belfakih’s father, who immigrated to the United States to attend college.

Students have also learned about Mexico, Canada and El Salvador. They will soon add Jamaica and Indonesia to the list.

During a unit on El Salvador the last week of May, Cyntia and Cristina Perez, second-grade twins from Mexico, and third-grader Christopher Cruz, from El Salvador, taught the class “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in Spanish. Spanish is the first language for all three, and they are working hard to learn English. Zarvis says such interchanges can give students from other countries pride in their heritage and a sense that they have talents to share.

Betts said she considers it part of her job to make her students “citizens of the world.”

“I had so many children with such a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “It’s really fun, first of all, to learn about different countries, but it has also been interesting to see them start to compare culture and traditions after we have learned a couple.”

With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Anouar and Abdullah, who now live in Easthampton, taught students a little Arabic – their first language and one of the official languages of Morocco. The boys also explained some of the differences between the languages.

The Arabic alphabet has 29 letters and, unlike English, is read from right to left.

“When I first came over here, I read backwards,” Abdullah said. He moved to the United States in March 2010 to live with an aunt and uncle in Easthampton. His parents and four siblings still live in Saudi Arabia.

After the presentation, students made their own signs by tracing the greeting Anouar and Abdullah had shown them.

Since Arabic letters are markedly different from English letters, students traced a penciled copy of the phrase with markers. They then decorated the paper with geometric designs resembling the traditional art of Morocco.

Throughout the unit, Betts highlighted the cultures of each country by talking about traditional dress, artwork, songs and food.

“There is so much positive in each country,” she said. Because her students are very young, the lessons steer clear of complicated issues, she added.

Zarvis says the presentations are useful to students learning English.

“It’s good for them to get to share their cultural and language background,” she said. “And it’s great for the other students because they get to learn from students from other backgrounds and explore.”

Abdullah, who didn’t know any English when he first arrived in this country, said it was “cool” to share his culture with the class.

He said it’s easier to learn Arabic than English.

“I like the Arabic alphabet better because it is so fun; the letters are so easy to write,” he said.

Maria, whose father is teaching her Arabic, has enjoyed teaching her classmates about her family’s home country.

“It’s fun to tell people about Morocco so they can learn,” she said.

She has visited Morocco with her family, and said her aunts, uncles and father frequently talk to her about the country.

Earlier in the day, her father had come to the class to show a movie and speak about Morocco. Then Maria practiced her Arabic in front of the class by translating words on one of the classroom walls into that language. The children took home a worksheet depicting the Arabic alphabet and numbers one through 10.

“It’s hard to learn Arabic,” said Maria, who attends religious school to study the Quran and Arabic, a language she started at age 3. She said she will be visiting Morocco again this summer.

“It really makes the kids feel special,” said Betts of the cross-cultural lessons. She said she hopes to organize a similar project next year.


Posted on June 13, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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