Multilingual Third Graders Share Their Project with Board at November Meeting

At the November 16 Chagrin Falls Board of Education meeting, three multilingual third-grade students from Gurney Elementary School shared their project-based Spanish learning activity with the Board during this month’s Student Showcase. 

“The Gurney Multilingual Project,” under the direction of Christopher Englehart, K-3 Spanish teacher, is intended to make the school more welcome and accessible for students who are new and speak another language.  As the students learned through working on this project together, they all have both differences and similarities.  They came to realize the importance of showing empathy to one another.  

Explained by third grader Sofia Jacobson, the first part of the project involved talking with each other about the different ways a new student who arrives at their school from another country and speaks a different language might feel. “We think they would feel sad, nervous, excited, lonely and frustrated.”  The students decided to interview their teacher of English to speakers of other languages, Catherine Schneider, and developed several questions to ask her. Schneider shared with the students that they were correct in thinking about all the ways a student would feel and how frustrating it is for these new students to communicate with someone.  At Gurney, they found that the current, most common languages spoken by students who aren't native English speakers are Spanish and Russian. The class came up with two solutions to help these students and future new students feel more comfortable and welcome at Gurney Elementary.

Third grader Dean Kosteas then shared how they wanted to help students recognize places around their school. They decided to place labels on the walls of the office, restrooms, and the playground with the words listed in English, Spanish and Russian.  “We also wanted these students not only to read the words but hear them,” said Kosteas.  The students used an online voice tool to record each of their voices and make them into QR codes for students to scan and hear.

There was one more solution the students came up with for this project.  Third grader Vivian Self explained that the students created an online tool to create a book of phrases for themes and locations around the school such as the playground, office, classroom and being with friends.  Each student took a page and created three phrases for different skills or topics.  They added pictures and are now adding their voices to the phrases in order to best help these students.

“In the future, we hope to enhance this project by providing dedicated devices to scan these QR codes, adding more pages and locations and books to our library, adding more languages to our labels, as well as creating personalized welcome folders for the new students from their future classmates and peers at Gurney,” said Englehart. The students hope to add French, Ukrainian and Japanese. 

“The beauty of being multilingual is that it improves your memory, enhances your ability to multi-task and it improves your performance in other academic areas,” said Board member Dr. Robert E. Schleper, Jr. “Learning a new language pushes our brains to become familiar with new grammar and vocabulary rules.”

“We like that you took the time to think about how someone new to our District may feel,” said Board President Sharon Broz.  “Now you are prepared when you see someone on the playground who looks new and maybe doesn’t have a friend yet or speaks another language. It’s great to have ambassadors around our school building who can lead the way in helping our students feel more welcome,” said Board President Sharon Broz.