"Today, I'll show you the real meaning of being present," said Jamestown High School 2012 graduate Jomar Gomez-Martinez during last year's final presentations for the Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP). "A large part of being present in education is being present in the classroom for both students and teachers. I want to demonstrate how an English as a Second Language student feels in the classroom."
Jomar brought three audience members to the front. He gave each one a paper with something written in Spanish. He then began speaking rapid-fire Spanish, giving the "students" directions. He asked each volunteer to read what was on the page. As they stumbled through the Spanish words, he told them "no" repeatedly and corrected them with the proper Spanish pronunciation.
"Do you need to yell at me?" asked one volunteer. "I don't understand this."
After going through each volunteer, he switched the papers giving him or her the English version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
"Everyone knows this song no matter your language, but now can you see what an English as a Second Language student goes through in the classroom? How did you feel when you couldn't understand what I was saying or reading. Wasn't it easier for you to learn when the information was in your native language, English? It is the same with English as a Second Language students. If we receive instruction in our native language, we can learn English easier and faster."
Jomar is a an English as a Second Language success story. He came to Washington Middle School in eighth grade from Puerto Rico speaking and understanding very little English. He was a strong student in Puerto Rico, but when he moved to Jamestown, he realized that he would be challenged.
"The only class I initially felt comfortable in was my ESL class with Mrs. Smith," said Jomar. "I'd walk down the halls and pick up some conversation but couldn't keep up. I think people don't understand that even though I could speak English I could not read or write effectively in English. I was so lucky to have Mrs. Smith. She worked with me both inside and outside the classroom and gave me extra work because she knew I wanted to learn. I loved learning English. I wanted to learn English. I just needed extra help to succeed."
Jomar was such a hard worker that he exited out of ESL in his junior year at JHS, only three years after coming to the U.S. He entered the Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) the same year. Through the program he worked at City Hall, the Department of Youth Services, and at Love Elementary School with kindergarten teacher Adrianna Cammarata.
"I have always thought I'd like to be a lawyer, and working at City Hall gave me opportunities to meet people and observe City Court. But, I never even thought of education as a potential career until I worked at Love School. YAP opened up new worlds for me in terms of my potential career."
Jomar originally planned to enter the military to help pay for his education but due to a medical condition was not eligible to join. However, that did not stop him. He knew about Jamestown Business College because he took a field trip to visit during YAP. He applied and is now studying business administration and marketing with the hopes to continue on in either law or education.
"JBC has been so good to me. I love it because if I need help or advice they are there for you. I want a future. I want to work. I want to be responsible. I want to reach my goal and prove to the world that I can be someone special," said Jomar.
His JHS mentors know he will succeed.
"Jomar was such a positive role model for my students," said Love Elementary School kindergarten teacher Adriana Cammarata. "He came in everyday head held high, dressed appropriately and used his skills to make my classroom a better place. He gained my students' respect by using primarily English, but his knowledge of Spanish when necessary. Jomar benefited my students, but it also helped build Jomar's confidence too. He presents himself beautifully to the world. He is not afraid to receive constructive criticism on his speaking, reading, and writing skills, and got along with our entire staff. He knows what he wants, and he continues towards his goals no matter what obstacle is put in his way."
"I think being involved in YAP helped give Jomar a place to shine," said YAP teacher Kim Sutter. "He has great public speaking skills; he's a natural. I think YAP opened up opportunities for Jomar, and he is the type of student to take advantage, and learn, from them. I have no doubt that anything Jomar puts his mind to, he'll do his very best to get there."
ESL AT JPS
Jomar is just one of many ESL students that attend Jamestown Schools. When any student registers at Jamestown Schools, they are given a home language questionnaire (in five different languages) as part of the registration process. The questionnaire asks parents questions like, "What language is spoken in the home and how well do you speak English?" Based on the questionnaire's answers, the school office will refer the student to the ESL teacher or coordinator for further screening.
Oral interviews are held and staff looks specifically to see if a student can not only speak English but also can they think and express themselves. Specifically, how well a student expresses, in English, complex thinking skills. After this evaluation, the ESL teacher will determine whether or not the student needs further ESL testing through the LAB-R test, which determines the level of listening, reading, writing and speaking skills that an ESL student possesses. Based on that test score, students may be placed in the ESL program as a beginner, intermediate or advanced student. The LAB-R test also provides the baseline of students' skills. Once in the ESL program, students receive ESL instruction based on their levels, more for the beginners and less as they progress and integrate into English classes.
In order for a student to exit out of the ESL program, they must pass the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test, which is given to all ESL students every year.
"It is important to note that a student may come into JPS speaking English at a conversational level but not having the high-level English reading and writing skills. That is where the ESL classes come in to help the student - to develop all of the necessary reading, writing, listening and speaking skills to graduate," said ESL coordinator Tamu Reinhardt. "It is also an important point that just because a student exits the ESL program, it does not mean that they won't continue to need support in other subject areas. They still may need extra help in non-English Language Arts areas like science and social studies. An ESL student may not understand, for example, vocabulary words that are specific to that content area. It is important that all individuals understand the diverse needs of English language learners to help them succeed and graduate."