Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

Photo: Ben James/Connecticut Public Radio.
Teacher Susan Blethen supports ESL students in a normal high school classroom in Burlington, Vermont.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, I assist teachers at two different Rhode Island agencies where they lead English as a Second Language classes. Since Covid, the classes have been online. I think it’s harder for the adults to learn a new language than kids, but our students are very motivated. They have their reasons — “to get a better job,” “to help my children with their homework,” “to talk to the doctor,” “to go to university.” It’s satisfying to watch them progress.

Young students from other countries also have reasons. Ben James of Connecticut Public Radio has a story about a few in the public school system of Burlington, Vermont, where multilingual liaisons smooth the transition to American schools.

“In an office at Burlington High School, just off Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, Chacha Ngunga made a phone call.

“ ‘Jambo jambo,’ he said, greeting a student’s father in their shared language, Swahili.

“Ngunga is a multilingual liaison — one of 12 employed by the Burlington district.

“A few feet away, Noor Bulle, another liaison, made a call in Maay Maay, one of the two major dialects of the Somali language. He reaches a Somali Bantu mother whose five children would soon enter district schools. The mother expressed amazement that her family was already on Bulle’s radar.

“Tens of thousands of Afghans who left their country after the Taliban took over in August will be resettling in the United States. Many of them are kids, so schools across the country are preparing to get these students up to speed. According to Bulle, the multilingual liaisons act as cultural brokers, helping refugee families understand how the U.S. school system works.

“Bibek Gurung, a graduate of Burlington High, is now a junior at Champlain College in Burlington, studying criminal justice. He arrived in Burlington during fifth grade, speaking almost no English. He said his Nepali-speaking liaison helped him with high school and with what he calls life stuff.

“ ‘I was actually looking for a job, and he advocated for me,’ Gurung said. ‘Through him, I was able to work for the Burlington Police Department as a beach-and-park patrol officer.’ …

“Shawna Shapiro, an associate professor at Middlebury College whose research focuses on the high school-to-college transition for refugee students, says many English learners in the U.S. finish high school unprepared for college. Part of the problem, she said, lies with English language learning programs that place students in lower-level academic classes, leaving them bored and underchallenged.

“Shapiro said educators underestimate not only refugee students’ abilities, but also their cultural and family resources.

“ ‘When you talk with students … you hear [them say,] “I feel underchallenged,” and then you pursue that a little more, and they say, ‘That’s frustrating because my parents were leaders in the refugee camp, and my mom was a professor, and my uncle was a police officer, and we’re here, and it feels like no one recognizes any of that,’ ” she said.

“Samjana Rai, a college-bound senior who arrived from Nepal when she was in seventh grade, has heard a similar frustration from her peers about low expectations.

” ‘A lot of my friends want to go to college,’ Rai said. ‘But because of classes that they had to take in sophomore year, freshman year, it’s a little harder for them to go to the college that they want to go to.’ …

“Down the hallway from the multilingual liaison office, 30-year veteran teacher Susan Blethen introduced a lesson to her integrated class of native English speakers and English learners. It’s taught by two teachers: the regular subject teacher and Blethen, who is a specialist in English Language Learning. …

“One purpose of the mixed classes, Blethen explained, is to make sure the English learners are being taught material that stimulates and inspires them to take on more challenges. In previous years, many of the English learners in this class would have been placed in what’s called ‘sheltered instruction,’ separated from their native-English-speaking peers.

“Blethen was the first teacher in Vermont to become certified as an English language learning instructor. She recalled a moment from early in her career.

“ ‘I actually had a social studies teacher yell at me when I was a young teacher, saying, “Why are they in my class if they can’t speak English? You have to teach them English before they can come into my class.” ‘ …

“Standing with a group of her peers, [Somali student] Aden said the languages and cultures of refugee students are still undervalued. …

“ ‘Bilingual people aren’t dumb. [They] can be challenged, and they can be doing higher things.’

“Aden herself plans to take honors civics next semester. ‘I thought, instead of doing an easy class, I should just challenge myself, because I’d be learning more if I did.’ ”

More at WBUR, here.

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After 46 years of marriage, I can say I have a husband who is the same guy he always was, just with more life experience. But among my small circle of friends, including my blog friends, many women are dealing with extraordinary changes.

It may be true that, overall, women are as likely to develop dementia as men (see study) and present their husbands with unexpected caregiving challenges, but so far those stories are not the ones I’m hearing.

A college friend married to a brilliant scientist who has known for some time he was developing Alzheimer’s recently told me, “I finally realized he is completely dependent on me.” She is biting the bullet, reaching out for more helpers and planning an altered future.

Another friend whose husband has dementia made the decision to leave behind all her East Coast activities and relocate to Minnesota, where there is a network of family members. She intends to keep her husband in their new home, which has become a safe place in his mind. When her husband no longer recognizes anyone at all, she says, she will get full-time care, move herself out, and come visit him.

I reconnected last month with a high school friend who suffered a bitter divorce decades ago. She told me her ex’s wealthy girlfriend has been able to provide high-quality care for him for the 15-plus years since he was diagnosed with dementia. Although the divorce is still raw enough that there are topics my friend can’t discuss with her children, she goes to the Alzheimer’s facility regularly to read to her ex. She wants to become a better person.

Dementia has not been the only challenge for women I know. In one case, after a relative discovered her husband’s multiyear dalliance with a blackmailing call girl (and he then suffered a physical and emotional collapse), the wife made heroic efforts to rebuild the shattered relationship. A year later, they are both enjoying life together a little more every day.

Then there is the friend whose husband’s rare disease progressed to the point that he can no longer be left alone. She has had friends come in for an hour or two so she can shop for groceries and walk the dog, but the cost of a few hours coverage from a trained home-health-care aide has to be parceled out frugally as this friend has lost one income, is trying to build a home-based career, and needs to pay for two children’s colleges.

I can’t say enough about how much I admire these women who are rising to meet unanticipated disruption despite their sorrow and fear.

Art: William Utermohlen
In 1995, U.K.-based artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He created a series of self-portraits over five years, before his death in 2007. (Caution: This is the first in the series. The others may be painful.)


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