VHS shares holiday cheer in many languages with RPE

Teacher Mima Nazarene sang “Mary Did You Know” with several Vandegrift students. They went to River Place
Elementary to meet students who, like them, are from other countries.

By MEGAN MESSER , Vandegrift Voice

Some 20 Vandegrift students, who are from all over the world, brought holiday cheer to about 20 students at River Place Elementary, who are also from other countries.

“The purpose of the trip was to spread cheer and to build relationships,” said Nazarene, the English as a Second Language teacher at VHS who organized the event.  

Viper students originally from China, Italy, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Spain, Venezuela and Mexico – connected with RPE students while singing versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Feliz Navidad” accompanied by guitar. Then Nazarene and some Vipers sang “Mary Did You Know”.

Jill Cummings, ESL teacher at RPE, said the students they chose to participate in the event all have lived outside the U.S. and have been in this country less than two years.

Students from Nazarene’s class brought with them bilingual stories they wrote in English and their native language. After singing and introductions, the older students paired up and read their stories in both languages to the younger students.

“We tried to pair them with high school students who spoke the same language and were from the same country as they were,” Cummings said.

The students were given freedom to write about anything they wanted and pick any genre.

“My story was about a girl with powers, and she obtained these powers from an earthquake in Japan,” said Aoi Nishimara, sophomore. “It was a fun fiction story to write about.”

In general, students new to the U.S. know very little English and sometimes go through a silent period. They can feel isolated in some ways, Cummings said.

“This was the first time to see some of these students speak to someone in their native language,” Cummings said. “It was pure joy to see their faces light up and see smiles!”

Cynthia Hughes, ESL teacher at RPE, also echoes those thoughts.

“For us, this was one of the first times we saw such animation and joy on our

newcomers’ faces! Truly special,” Hughes said.

The event embraces uniqueness and builds confidence, Nazarene said.

Hughes thinks this type of event is important to newcomer students.

“They see students in high school sharing the same experience that they do of coming to a new country and learning a new language and they realize they can do this,” she said.

Vipers who went to RPE agree that the field trip was a success.

“I was happy that I went because I got the chance to communicate with younger kids,” Nishimara said.

Nazarene feels like a pioneer teacher with the initiative. Her goal is to continue to take her students on field trips so they can bond with young EL learners.

“We built relationships with these kids in order to become their big pals and will continue through writing letters to one another, so my students can (also) practice their writing skills,” she said.

Lynette Haaland contributed to this story.

Some of the 60-plus English as a Second Language students at River Place Elementary enjoyed singing holiday
songs with Vandegrift ESL students on Monday