Kindergartner Jeanny Huang didn’t know any English words when she began this school year at Kealakehe Elementary.
The girl, who speaks Cantonese, was assessed and placed in the school’s program for English language learners. For 30 minutes a day, Huang goes to ELL coordinator Roger Hamilton’s classroom in Building D to use Imagine Learning, a language and literacy software program that accelerates English learning. She is making progress.
Wednesday morning, Huang was one of a dozen students sounding out letters, talking and singing. They seemed content and unaware of their surroundings while sitting at computers and listening to instructions through headphones. All were engaged and eager to learn.
Each student was learning phonics, vocabulary and grammar while completing interactive activities and games. They were also practicing listening, comprehension and speaking. The software tracks their learning. Reports are given to teachers on a monthly basis.
With multiple students, speaking a variety of languages, Imagine Learning helps ease the process of communication in a fun way. It’s not uncommon for participants to find commonalities and form friendships while learning the standards-based curriculum, Hamilton said.
Kealakehe Elementary School was the first in West Hawaii to use the program. In the past four years, Imagine Learning has proved to be an effective tool to teach students who speak no or limited English. Nearly 70 percent of first-graders gained two levels of English literacy during one year of participation in Imagine Learning. The state considers a half-level gain adequate progress, Hamilton said.
Imagine Learning is valuable because direction is given in the students’ native languages first and gradually introduces English. The support fades over time as students become more proficient, Hamilton said.
The software program provides first language support in Spanish, Mandarin, French, Haitian-Creole, Marshallese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Tagalog, Japanese and Portuguese, he added.
Kealakehe Elementary is among the top 50 of thousands of schools using Imagine Learning consistently. The Utah-based company will award the school a commemorative plaque at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in the cafeteria during the ABC Read to Me event. Dinner will be served and the public is invited to attend.
Kealakehe Elementary is the only Hawaii school receiving this award this year. According to a letter sent Oct. 9 from Imagine Learning CEO Joe Swenson, this achievement is the result of hard work and dedication of many, as well as shows commitment, enthusiasm and perseverance.
Besides using Imagine Learning at Kealakehe Elementary, after-school tutoring is offered in the Kaloko transitional housing complex. The company donated servers and licenses; computers were purchased through a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant awarded to the school, Hamilton said. This tutoring program began a year ago and allows ELL students more opportunities to practice, he added.
Kealakehe Elementary has one of the largest elementary populations of English learners in the state. Hamilton works with 315 students, including those who have reached proficiency standards for their grade level. Students are monitored for two years after achieving proficiency, to ensure success and a rapid response should they begin to struggle, Hamilton said.
Hamilton oversees 35 part-time tutors who help the English learners and speak their native language. The majority of English learners are from the Marshall Islands. While Imagine Learning is available in several languages, it does not have Kosraean, the language spoken in Kosrae, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia. The school has 60 students who speak Kosraean, which is the second largest subgroup in the ELL program.
Imagine Learning is just one component of the school’s comprehensive ELL program. Students also build their language skills and confidence through supportive school relationships with teachers and peers, which are critical for second-language acquisition. ELL students participate in a five-week drama program, an annual speech festival and other enrichment activities.