ESL Students Read With First Graders, Learn From Each Other at La Sierra Academy

Posted on Jul 27 2017

International high school and first-grade students paired together at La Sierra Academy for the school’s first-ever Reading Buddy Program in the 2016-2017 school year. For some time, Walter Lancaster, principal, had been hoping to implement the program in order to help strengthen the reading and comprehension skills of the English as a Second Language students. What he was not expecting were the untold benefits of frequent social interaction between the two groups.

“The program gave them a sense of accomplishment and helped their reading attitude,” said ESL teacher Edith Pereda. “There was significant growth in my students’ reading and listening abilities, and their self-esteem was boosted when they had the opportunity to be a big brother/sister to their buddy.”

Each of the international students enrolled in the ESL class visit the first-graders and read books to them. This allowed international students “the opportunity to practice fluency and vocabulary as they discussed books and stories,” according to Michelle Beach, first-grade teacher.

The sibling-like interactions were precious to many of the Chinese ESL students, who do not have brothers or sisters. In addition to reading time, the students often played together and exchanged homemade cards for Christmas.

“The first-grade students were also motivated to improve upon their reading skills,” explained Jessica Preece, first-grade teacher.

They did this by following along and talking about the stories in question with their international buddies. Each group of students wanted to be better readers than the others, prompting every student—regardless of age—to work to increase their respective abilities.

“We work well together,” Kuan Tian, 10th grade, said as the school year was coming to an end. “I read a page, she read a page. Although she sometimes had problems with pronunciation of some words, that was OK—because my pronunciation wasn’t that good either!”

Lancaster noted the same improvements as the instructors.

“This program has far exceeded our expectations for both the international students and the first-grade students,” Lancaster said.

During the recent school year, the school’s two first-grade classes switched off between semesters. Next year, Lancaster plans to expand the program in order to include both classes the entire time, as the children from the first semester really missed their buddies and program during the second half of the year.

“My reading buddies had good manners and were very sweet,” commented Zhe Han, a ninth-grade ESL student. “And it was fun, because we shared about our cultures.”