Event mixes oral language with holiday traditions

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published December 13, 2013

WARREN — Mound Park Elementary parents who came out to the school with their children the evening of Dec. 10 learned the importance of oral language, which, in definition, is the development of speaking and listening skills.

“It is the foundation on which we learn to read and write,” said Andrea Hasse, school Title I reading specialist/coach. “When you’re an infant, babbling, making sounds and crying is a means of communication right at birth.”

Through reading activities, art projects, and milk and cookies, parents received a better understanding of why they need to consistently communicate with their children. Mound Park is part of Fitzgerald Public Schools. While the event was geared toward the school’s English Language Learners students, the event was open to the entire student body and their families.

During the evening, Hasse gave a Powerpoint presentation that offered listening and speaking objectives for parents to do at home with their children, such as sharing a story about what happened during their day, role playing, reading aloud and talking about school news.

“We want toddlers to have 1,000-2,000 words in their vocabulary,” Hasse said. “Parents who read to them give them a high exposure to words. ”

Children in first grade, for instance, should be able to listen courteously to a speaker, listen and respond to stories, show understanding and follow directions.

By the third grade, listening for extended lengths of time, listening and understanding specific vocabulary, and using senses to problem solve are among the tools that age group should be mastering.

“The better you are at talking, you’re engaging in conversation and understanding language,” Hasse said, adding oral language carries over into adulthood. “As an adult, it helps you communicate at your job, in your community and you become more self-educated.”

To give an example of re-telling a story as you are reading it, Hasse read aloud the big book “The Jacket I Wear In The Snow.” The students read aloud with her, and then attached cutout pictures to the pages to help re-tell the story.

The evening also gave families an opportunity to make art projects that depicted their own holiday traditions. Some kids made Christmas trees, while others created winter scenes. Families were encouraged to talk to each other while creating the artwork. Santa Claus also made an appearance.

ELL teacher Sorana Barrow, who came to the United States from Romania in 2001, shared with everyone a Christmas tradition she had when growing up in her mother country.

“On Dec. 6, we clean our shoes and put them at the door. Overnight, Santa Claus would be coming to leave presents by the shoes,” Barrow said. Gifts could be sweets, oranges or toys. Barrow said the presents were always “something small” and that bigger presents were left Christmas morning Dec. 25. “You were so thrilled. I remember waking up and running to look at the shoes.”

That’s if you were good. If not, well, you might find a stick, instead.

“It was just a reminder to be on your best behavior,” Barrow said, adding the sticks were usually decorated.

Barrow, who hails from Transylvania, first came to America as a college student.

“I decided to stay,” she said. “Here, people make you feel welcome. This country has an open mind.”

Barrow instructs ELL classes at Mound Park and at Chatterton Middle School, also in FPS.

“We focus on the English language to improve their language proficiency,” Barrow said. “They are with me one or two hours per day and then go into the classroom. It’s true the older they are, the tougher it is. You have to learn the language first. It will take you a few years to get you up to speed.”

Barrow also encourages students to get off the computers and cellphones.

“You need to have a balanced life,” she said. “We need to know how to not spend all day on a device. We need to occupy their minds more with thinking.”

Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides financial assistance to states and school districts to meet the needs of educationally at-risk students.