Georgia College students hold bilingual story time at elementary school

Georgia College students hold bilingual story time at elementary school

E xposure to a second language doesn’t usually begin until high school. By then, too many are fearful of new territory and have built barriers.

Not young children. Like a sponge, they’re eager to absorb new experiences.

They’re not afraid to make mistakes, and that’s something I have to get over myself. It’s so freeing to see them learning and accepting other languages and cultures.
– Christopher Jackson
“They’re not afraid to make mistakes, and that’s something I have to get over myself. It’s so freeing to see them learning and accepting other languages and cultures,” said junior Christopher Jackson of Gray.

Jackson is double majoring in communication and world language and cultures with an emphasis in Spanish. He’s part of Dr. Mariana Stoyanova’s language service-learning class that provides weekly bilingual story times in Spanish and French to 3rd graders at Midway Hills Academy and occasional Saturday readings for 2- and 3-year olds at Mary Vinson Library, both in Milledgeville. Library coordinators told Stoyanova the sessions are popular, attracting the library’s highest story-time attendance since the pandemic.

Pupils in Karlettia Jackson’s 3rd grade class also enjoy seeing and learning from college students. They cheer when Bobcats enter the classroom.

Christopher Jackson leads a class recently at Midway Hills Academy.
Christopher Jackson leads a class recently at Midway Hills Academy.

Dr. Eric Carlyle, principal at Midway, welcomes this exposure for his students and the “expansion of learning” it provides. He’s always looking for ways to improve curriculum and create collaborative opportunities.

“They love it. It’s a nice change to the traditional instruction they get on a daily basis,” Carlyle said. “It’s always great for students to have an opportunity to learn from various people—whether they’re teachers in-training or students who are coming in from different realms of life.”

“Secondly, I think it helps our teachers to have people bringing in fresh ideas and different ways of presenting information to our students,” he said. “And I think it really helps us continue forging partnerships with community partners. To have an institution of higher learning of this magnitude here is extremely beneficial.”

Before entering the elementary classroom, Georgia College students must first understand the theory of acquiring a second language and ways young students learn. Hands-on experience in a classroom setting is valuable, Stoyanova said. Students design lesson plans and practice their own language skills while teaching others. This builds leadership and gives them a chance to interact with different age groups.

They learn to give clear and concise instructions and guide younger students in their learning by adapting to their needs. Such skills go beyond the classroom and are applicable in many situations, including professional settings.
– Dr. Marianna Stoyanoa
“They’re also meeting a growing need for elementary-aged children to gain access to different cultures. This helps them become well-rounded individuals and global citizens,” Stoyanova said.

“They learn to give clear and concise instructions and guide younger students in their learning by adapting to their needs,” she said. “Such skills go beyond the classroom and are applicable in many situations, including professional settings.”

This semester, students are teaching young pupils greetings, colors, animal names and numbers in Spanish. They read age-appropriate bilingual story books and create activities to reinforce vocabulary. This includes games, music with Spanish lyrics like Disney’s “Encanto,” short online clips and worksheets.

One student read from Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish Two Fish” (“Un pez dos peces”) to teach numbers in Spanish to 20. Others read books like Bill Martin Jr.’s “Brown Bear” (“Oso pardo”) and “Polar Bear” (“Oso polar”) and Patricia Seibert’s “Three Little Pigs” (Los tres cerditos”) to strengthen vocabulary and help kids with story organization.

Dr. Stoyanova helps an elementary student.
Dr. Stoyanova helps an elementary student.
Young pupils pick up language quickly, Stoyanova said. They memorize most words by the end of a 45-minute lesson and show comprehension by successfully completing associated activities.

“The young ones love it when Georgia College students show up,” she said, “because it’s like a special treat outside their regular curriculum. They enjoy the interaction because they get to learn something new in a fun way.”

When Jackson stood in front of the 3rd grade class recently, no one could tell he was nervous. He started his bilingual story time by asking questions. This stirred up memories of the previous lesson. He interacted with them in a lively, fun manner—and they loved it.

“Hey chicos,” Jackson called out, “what’s your favorite animal?”

They responded with a variety of animal names.

“Oh, that’s great. Does anybody see their favorite animal up here?” he said, pointing to a smart board. “Does anyone remember what we talked about last week? That’s right, pets. In Spanish they’re called ‘mascotas.’ Can you say it with me?”

Callie Smith helps a child with her Spanish vocabulary.
Callie Smith helps a child with her Spanish vocabulary.
This interactive banter keeps the elementary students focused and actively involved. Jackson used his lesson to review color words in Spanish, while introducing new sound words. Pretty soon, the classroom was reverberating with all kinds of animal noises—barking, meowing, growling, roaring, snorting, chirping and hissing.

“A second language is a beneficial tool to have in this ever-evolving world we’re in,” Jackson said. “To be aware of different languages and cultures is never a harmful thing to have. It’s also really interesting to see the native speakers in the classroom. They’re so happy their peers understand them and have an appreciation for another language.”

Junior psychology major Callie Smith of Norcross is minoring in Spanish. When she signed up for Stoyanova’s class, she didn’t know they’d be going into local schools and libraries to teach. The class has given her a glimpse of what it’s like to be an educator. She plans to adapt these skills in the future as a psychologist.

The opportunity to teach at Midway Elementary has shown me what it means to teach and challenge children effectively with a second language. It’s always very sweet to watch children have their interest piqued and potentially see a new passion beginning in them. Surprisingly, this class has been one of my favorites throughout my years at Georgia College. It’s been very cool to see myself grow and adapt.
– Callie Smith

Jackson said he’s grown and adapted, as well. This experience has reinforced his dream of teaching language, making him feel more comfortable and capable of teaching younger learners.

Leaving the elementary class recently, he waved to the kids and said, “We’re going to be back next week, and we’re going to learn even more Spanish. Anybody remember how to say goodbye in Spanish?”

They replied in chorus: “Adios!”