Learning to Love the English Language
This year, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization was thrilled to introduce their pilot English Immersion classroom during the 2013 Fall Session of the Core Child Program. Armed with valuable knowledge on the funding restraints faced by our Palestinian public schools, my involvement as an experienced preschool teacher with International Intern Program and a strong desire for English instruction at TYO, this fall TYO was finally able to make a former dream a reality.
TYO has long been advocates for the children struggling in the Palestinian education system. When we added Homework Help into our curriculum years ago, it became painfully obvious that the Nabulsi children were not only lacking in English comprehension but had failed to “memorize” the English vocabulary forced upon them since first grade. This valuable data, coupled with demands made from parents for English support for their children, highlighted the need for TYO to pursue a language program. While an ESL-style class was obviously a priority, TYO simply didn’t have the resources to supplement our already vital non-formal education programs. However, it was the hope that with TYO’s role as the only American organization in Nablus, and our ability to bring native English-speaking interns to the area, that one day we would have the ability to provide the Core Child Program with the ESL support necessary our beneficiaries to find utmost success in the future.
Fast forward to the Fall 2013 intern class. This session I worked for three months in the International Intern Program. I came to Nablus, armed with experience, a certificate in Early Childhood Education and a background in both English and working with children experiencing trauma. With my experience as a valuable tool, TYO was able to finally move forward with years of planning and preparation in order to pilot the first English Immersion classroom in the Core Child Program.
This pilot program focused on three major components. First, introducing the TYO Core Child Program students to English in a positive manner – through art and play. Recent research highlights the necessity for play in language acquisition. In Ruth Piker’s examination of English language learners in Head Start programs in the USA, she notes “Play, central in the life learning of small children, is also a site for academic and language learning.”  Armed with this knowledge, we set out to create an English immersion classroom at TYO that invited and encouraged creativity, conversation and comfort.
Second, TYO was intent on introducing the Nabulsi children to English through a native English speaker in an immersion style setting. At TYO, the English language classes are taught entirely in English. From day one, the children entered into a bright and colorful room, covered with English letter posters and a smiling, excited educator. Using body language and simplistic vocabulary in this immersion style, within the first week of instruction, our children were able to use “Hello” and “My name is…” during introductory conversations.
Finally, it was of the utmost importance for TYO to pilot this program with our youngest beneficiaries. In Nablus, preschool is not always considered a priority. As education is free from 1st through 12th grade, and preschool is a private enterprise that requires collecting tuition, the latter is not always considered a priority. Yet the benefits of a preschool education are well documented. In fact, data gathered from research conducted in the USA shows that “children who attend a high-quality early learning program gain four months of learning, on average. The highest-quality programs can produce up to a year of additional learning. In addition, children see gains throughout their lives—from improved graduation rates and earnings to decreased rates of crime and adolescent pregnancy. Children who are the most vulnerable, particularly low-income children…benefit the most from participation in high-quality preschool.” In Palestine, this translates to less violence in the home, fewer early marriages and inter-family marriages and greater economic opportunity. With an English language component added into the already invaluable preschool-like environment, our children can only leave this session prepared for the highest achievements in school and throughout their lifetime.
During this twelve-week session at TYO, the children have flourished in the English Immersion classroom. With the support of the dedicated Core Child Program teachers, our children have learned the English vocabulary for numbers, animals, colors, shapes and family members. They have cut, glued, pasted and painted their way through the entire alphabet and can sing songs entirely in English. They can conduct full conversations with native speakers, including sharing their names and where they're from. Not a day passed where the children couldn’t be heard yelling, “Hello!!” as I walked through the TYO atrium. All it would take is a minute spent in the Core Child Program to understand the true impact our English Immersion classroom has made on 80 of the most vulnerable children of Nablus.
So what is next for TYO’s Core Child Program beneficiaries and the English immersion program? First, the children will now enter the first grade armed with a budding capacity for the English language and a memory of their first experience in language acquisition: one that focused on art, play and positivity. The children will carry this knowledge and experience throughout their lifetimes, both within the classroom and in their community interactions. As for the TYO English program, it is with great hope that we anticipate adopting a permanent curriculum for the Core Child Program. However, without the necessary resources: an experienced and dedicated native English-speaking teacher, the required funding and the necessary community support, TYO simply cannot continue this invaluable program. With your generous contributions, TYO will have the ability to keep our English Immersion classroom open and welcome new little eager faces through the doors during the Spring 2014 session. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how you can contribute to the TYO Core Child Program English Immersion program.
 Piker, Ruth A. “Understanding influences of play on second language learning: A microethnographic view in one Head Start preschool classroom”. Journal of Early Childhood Research. 11: 184 (2013)
Jessica is a Fall 2013 at TYO in Nablus.