Switch to online classes impacts Huntsville ESL students
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Huntsville City Schools is having to use new ways to connect with students whose first language isn't English.

"I think one of the challenges for my students is that they are very dependent on that face-to-face interaction with their teachers," ESL teacher Candace Hatcher said.

She says it's hard teaching her students without being right next to them.

"They are able to ask clarification that way. They rely a lot on the visual that are available in the classroom setting, so we've had to provide support since they're not getting that through individualized instruction," Hatcher explained.

There are currently 1,600 ESL students in Huntsville. The students speak more than 40 languages and vary in English proficiency, so teachers have to come up with creative ways to help them understand their lessons.

"Very focused instruction. We are having to identify the most important things to teach and really emphasize those things," Hatcher said.

Still, the switch to online classes is actually helping some ESL students better understand their lessons. The school district says it noticed an increase in families becoming more involved in their child's education.

"They are actually able to discuss whatever the subject is with their child in the native language and give a deeper kind of description, which results in a better understanding for the student. Our job then is to translate that back into English," Hatcher said.

The school district's ESL coordinator, Ann Marie Bautista, encourages the idea of getting family members involved in their kid's education.

"We want parents to use that first language to strengthen the thinking and learning for their children," Bautista said.

Hatcher says she believes in her students who are going through this difficult change.

"I know my students are going to come out of this stronger with greater knowledge. They are highly motivated and we are not going to let this slow us down with our learning," Hatcher said.

The school district says it’s there to help.

"We know this is a challenging time. It's difficult, it's new, but reach out to us. I may not be fully bilingual, but I will find a way. If you leave me a name and number, I will have someone call you back," Bautista said.

The school district said one of the biggest struggles when classes first switched online was making sure students could navigate through the technology.

Parents and students have access to bilingual support to help answer their questions.

If any ESL parent or student has any issues, they can contact their teacher or ESL coordinator. Her contact information is (256) 929-5655.

Tenemos este reportaje disponible en español aquí.

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