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UVM Students Support English Language Learners in Burlington


Published May 10, 2019 at 10:01 a.m.

University of Vermont student Aliyah Rosen (left) with Burlington High School sophomore Francika Gurung - COURTESY OF FRITZ SENFTLEBER
  • Courtesy of Fritz Senftleber
  • University of Vermont student Aliyah Rosen (left) with Burlington High School sophomore Francika Gurung
Aliyah Rosen, a sophomore at the University of Vermont, stood to address Burlington High School sophomore Francika Gurung, who she spent the past semester tutoring.

“Francika, from the first day that I met you, you were so sweet, you were so kind, and I could tell that you really were there to learn,” Aliyah said.

The two young women recently took part in the BHS-UVM Collaborative Literacy Initiative, which served as both an afterschool program for Burlington High School students, and a way for undergraduates minoring in Education for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity to fulfill their teaching requirements. The initiative paired UVM tutors, who had taken courses on teaching methods and lesson planning, with high-need English language learners at the high school.

The project is the brainchild of UVM associate professor Cynthia Reyes. She said that pairing high schoolers with college students was beneficial for both parties. For the undergrads, the one-on-one experience with younger people provided a much-needed respite from the practice they got teaching classes at UVM. For the high schoolers, tutors could share helpful first-hand college knowledge.

The Burlington School District is well-suited to the program. In 2018, 16.1% of its students received language learning services. In the state of Vermont, the average is only 2%. In this particular tutoring group of 15, students spoke Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, French, Maaymaay, Vietnamese, Somali, Mandarin and Nepali.

Francika comes from Nepal. Since students could decide what they needed most help with, she chose to focus on grammar, vocabulary and professional writing. She and her tutor Aliyah constructed sentences to understand the meanings of large, complex words.

At first, Francika didn’t have high expectations about the project. Her English Language teacher asked her if she wanted to do the project, and she decided to try it.

“Oh, this is actually fun,” Francika remembered thinking, after a few sessions. Funding from Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning at UVM went toward purchasing items for the sessions, such as snacks and games focused on word development.

Cynthia Reyes said she was unsure what the outcome might be when the program began, but the partnership worked well. Due to its success, the initiative will take place again next year.

At the ceremony marking the end of their semester together, each student pair stood to appreciate each other.

“Thank you for helping me with my vocab and my grammar,” Francika said to Aliyah. “I’m going to miss you.”

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.