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Educational Service Unit #13

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ESU13 Student Success Story

Johnathon is only three years old, but is already multilingual. Three languages are spoken in his home: Kiche, Aguacateco, and Spanish. Johnathon is now adding English to the languages he speaks. I visited the Head Start center Johnathon attends recently with Perla Garza, the family’s Migrant Education Recruiter / Family Liaison. “Hola!” Johnathon greeted us in Spanish with a smile, then “Look!” He shouted in English. He was making a Christmas ornament as a gift for his parents. Ms. Ramsey, Head Start Teacher Aide, poured paint into a clear ornament. Johnathan’s job was to swirl the two colors of paint inside the ornament to create a keepsake. “Uh-oh! My hands!” Johnathon exclaimed, in English as he dripped some paint.

Later, Johnathon talked with us. “I have friends.” He said in English. He held up his hands. “Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Five friends!” Clearly, Johnathon is learning much more than English at Head Start, He has also learned social skills, and math skills!

The road to success began with Johnathon’s parents, Carlos and Reyna, who have given Johnathon love, support, and opportunities to learn about the world around him. His success continued each time Rosie Cobos, the family’s first Migrant Education Recruiter / Family Liaison gave books and learning materials to the family at home visits. Rosie was mindful of the skills Johnathon would need, and wanted to make sure that he had the opportunity to begin learning as early as possible, so she encouraged Carlos and Reyna to enroll in Head Start. Because of the language barrier, Rosie reached out to Mrs. Lukassen, Head Start teacher and coordinated with Head Start staff and the family to set up the enrollment meeting. Head Start provided an interpreter for the initial meeting, and Johnathon was accepted into the Program.

As often happens with children who are learning English, Johnathon faced a few challenges early on due to the language barrier. Shortly after the school year began, I received a call from Donna Jenne, ESU 13 Head Start / Early Head Start director. “Can you come over and help us problem solve?” Donna asked. Certainly. As we talked, it became apparent that little Johnathon, who didn’t speak any English at the time, was overwhelmed by his new surroundings. Unable to understand what was happening around him, he had opted to hide under the table. His teacher and the support staff were doing all they could to help him, but the language barrier made it impossible to reassure Johnathon that everything was going to be ok.

We made a plan to send Perla Garza, our new Migrant Education Recruiter / Family Liaison who had started working in the area, to provide some bilingual support for a few days. Having an extra staff member now in the area makes support like this possible. Before Perla joined the team, Rosie had been the only Recruiter / Family Liaison for a caseload of over 300 children per year, making these types of services impossible to provide.

Perla called Head Start and family and made a plan. She arrived first thing the next morning to greet Johnathon and his dad when they arrived at school. She reassured them that everything was going to be just fine, and that Johnathon would soon be learning and happy at school. She worked with Johnathon all day teaching him routines and a few basic English words so that he could understand important directions. By the end of the day, Johnathon’s confidence was growing. The next day, Perla returned again to assist, but left the room a few times to see if Johnathon could manage on his own without her support. He could. The third day, Perla stopped in before the students arrived and talked with the Mrs. Lukassen, but didn’t let Johnathon see her. She gave Mrs. Lukassen her phone number and worked in the nearby area keeping her phone near her in case help was needed. However, Johnathon successfully navigated the day without the extra help that day. With the excellent support of Head Start staff, he has been succeeding ever since.

Head Start staff are happy to report that Johnathon is doing well, learning new words each day. He is social with the other children and repeats words that he hears regularly. He is even learning bigger words. “Engine!” Johnathon shouted, pointing to a contraption on the TV screen. The other day, Head Start staff told us, Johnathon didn’t like something on his lunch tray, he said, “It’s disgusting!”

Johnathon’s parents are proud of his progress. They tell us that he is teaching them words in English at home. Johnathon’s story shows that young children can learn so much with a caring, supportive environment. With just a little extra support from the Migrant Education Program, and a whole lot of lot of love and support and opportunities from his parents, teacher, and aides at Head Start, Johnathon is thriving.