Once a month at the Literacy Center, the English language instructors put on an event for the benefit of their learners and their families. These Family Activity Nights, or FANs, provide an opportunity for students of all levels, from absolute beginners to more advanced speakers of English, to practice their English skills in a more natural, social setting. Each event is made up of a group dinner and a subsequent activity designed to get both the adult learners to bond with their children and fellow learners while using English language skills.
At the first of these events held this year, I was encouraged to see that the majority of my learners had shown up with their children, their spouses, and other family members, and for the most part were enjoying themselves and chatting amongst one another. The activity for the October FAN was to create and illustrate a book featuring sentences about the values associated with the celebration of Thanksgiving.
Around the lunchroom in Harrison Park Elementary School there were plenty of smiles, and laughter, and the sound of conversation echoed off the white brick walls. I noticed after a time however that one family was sitting off at their own table making their book by themselves. This learner was not only just beginning to learn English, she was the only speaker of a language other than Spanish in the room, a fact that created a second language and cultural barrier between herself and the others in the room.
I was anticipating that this woman and her daughter would be bored out their minds with no one else to interact with but, as I got closer, I noticed that the little girl was coloring away and writing up her thanksgiving story while her mother looked on in admiration. I asked if everything was alright and my learner told me with a smile, “Yes, very good. Isn’t my daughter smart?”
I shook my head and smiled and asked the girl to show me what she had wrote about Thanksgiving. As she showed me her drawings and the things that made her feel happy, thankful, generous, and kind, she began to talk about how she made a circuit in science class earlier that day and that she wanted to be a scientist.
As the little girl told me this, I thought of how just a week before her mother had told me that she had only recently taught herself to read and that this English class was one of the only times she had been able to study. With this in mind, it was no wonder she was so proud of her daughter and all the possibilities that were open to her. And, even though my student probably didn’t understand everything her daughter was saying, I knew she understood the great value of education for both her daughter and herself.