A look into Blair's ESOL department
Up until last April, freshman Christelle Etienne lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After moving to the United States and starting school at Blair, she suddenly came face-to-face with a school that dwarfed her old one and was filled with people who spoke a language far different from her native Creole. Etienne is one of around 300 students enrolled in Blair's English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) program.
According to freshman Long Lam, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam three years ago, what makes the ESOL teachers so important is that they make their students feel comfortable. "Because we have accents and don't speak as well, it can be embarrassing in other classes but we feel comfortable in ESOL classes. The teachers are really helpful with that,” he says.
Teaching an ESOL class can be difficult. Often, students from different countries are not habituated to culture, language or school in the U.S. "Sometimes you take things for granted and start teaching one thing and you realize that you have to step back," ESOL history and reading teacher Natalie Waltz says.
For Etienne, one of these culture barriers came in learning U.S. history. "In Haiti, we learned the history of the world, not especially of the U.S.," she says. That means that, unlike many other students in Blair, Etienne had no background for the subject when she began.
For Adler, the challenges of being the ESOL department head go beyond the classroom. "We are the advocates for the students here," she says. This can be especially difficult as many people do not appreciate the obstacles that those arriving from different countries must face. "People who have been speaking the same language their whole life may underestimate the challenge or many facets of the challenge of learning a new language," she says, emphasizing how much more work this requires beyond merely learning new vocabulary.
Nonetheless, the ESOL teachers enjoy their job and find it rewarding. For Adler, the students are the best part of her job. "They're very open and they're very grateful for help because they need so much help and the relationships and bonds are very rewarding," she says. Waltz agrees. "The students can be really sweet, especially since they may have come from a place where they couldn't go to school or the teacher may not have shown up half the time," she says.
Because the ESOL department is largely self-contained, especially at the earlier levels, many students and staff at Blair are unaware of its size and significance. For Adler, this is something that needs to be fixed. "I'd like to see ESOL students' contribution valued," she says. ESOL classes are an important part of helping students adapt to their new country and succeed academically but, above all, they are made up of hard-working students and teachers. So what does Adler most want people to understand? "ESOL is awesome," she says.
Eleanor Cook. Hi! I'm super excited to be an Editor-in-Chief of SCO this year. When I'm not managing this site I enjoy playing soccer, basketball, and running track, and am an avid reader and Harry Potter fan. Have fun reading about the latest Blair events! More »