June 16, 2012 in Washington Voices

Students share life stories

Immigrants polish English skills with program at North Pines
By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

North Pines Middle School eighth-grader Asha Abbas, 14, left, and seventh-grader Isabella Moua, 13, share a laugh Wednesday after an English language development class presentation in which students tell stories about themselves using Microsoft Photo Story.
(Full-size photo)

At North Pines Middle School in the Central Valley School District, a class of 19 English language development students gathered together to watch classmates’ Photo Stories on Wednesday.

The class held a special screening, complete with refreshments after the show.

Many of the students told stories about the day they moved to America. Some of them talked about the long flight. One talked about the last time she was in her old house and her old neighborhood. Many talked about the best friends they left behind and still miss.

“The topic was something about them that was important,” said ELD teacher Betsy Casteel.

This project began with a writing assignment for the students at the beginning of the school year. Students in ELD come to North Pines with varying levels of English language skills – some don’t speak the language at all.

They then decided to play around with Microsoft Photo Story, a free software program that allows users to create a slideshow with music, dialogue and other special effects. The project started to grow.

“I was pretty hands-off on all of this,” Casteel said. The students worked on their own on their slideshows.

Casteel said there are 21 students from throughout the district in the program. They spend one class period a day in Casteel’s room for their language arts class. She said they move at a slower pace in her class and she works with other teachers in the school to provide support for them. They often come into her room to work on projects from other classes if they are in need of a comfortable, quiet space.

“It’s very rare when this room is empty,” Casteel said.

Although the students are working through a language barrier, it doesn’t seem to slow them down academically.

“All of them are on the honor roll,” said Principal Gordon Grassi.

Casteel, a former Spanish teacher at Central Valley and University high schools, has been teaching the ELD class for six years.

Students in her class come from 11 countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Liberia, Iraq, Russia, Laos, Germany, Marshall Islands, Ukraine, Somalia and Belarus. Some of them described their own country in their presentation. Some of them talked about a great day they had. One of them talked about the Five Pillars of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim.

Iryna Gnatenko, 13, said this was the first time she had made a project like this, but she had shown her fellow students the Photo Story before so she wasn’t nervous Wednesday.

“I was used to it,” she said.

In her presentation, Gnatenko talked about her last day in her home country.

“I looked at all these places where I grew and where all my memories are,” she said in the video. “Everybody was quiet.”

Julia Semeniuk, 13, moved to the United States five years ago from Ukraine. She said everything there was very expensive, and the schools were very strict. She likes that America is a free country.

Semeniuk said she spent about a month on her project. It took her a week to write it, then she had to edit and change it. She spent a lot of time finding pictures.

Yaqoob Almunshed, 12, talked about Iraq in his presentation. He tied it into another class in which he was learning about ziggurats – ancient temple towers. He had seen some of them in his own country. He said he has lived in America for a little more than a year.

“Lucky for him he knew some English when he came here,” said his friend, Omar Ali, 14.

Ali didn’t have a video in the presentation, but he was impressed by what he saw.

“It was pretty good,” he said. “They did a great job.”

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