Springville High Student Spearheads New ESL Peer Tutoring Program

High school is hard enough, but to those who come to the United States with limited English-speaking skills, it makes it even more challenging. Springville High School senior Kailey Parkinson has taken it upon herself to create a program that better helps English language learning (ELL) students to better assimilate into the school system and more importantly, among their peers. In order to do this, Kailey ha spearheaded the MLS Peer Tutoring program, which pairs multilingual students with others who are learning English as a second language. 

The program is the first of its kind in the Nebo School District. With the help of her teacher, Kailey was able to develop, propose, and implement the program at the high school, with the hope that the program can be brought to other schools throughout the district. 

“In a couple of my own classes, I saw kids who were struggling just because they didn’t know English or they didn’t speak or understand enough of it. I thought about how frustrating that would be,” Kailey said. “We had resources at school that we were not using. I thought we could kind of combine this problem and these resources and get a program started to help these students out.” 

The initiative is structured as a hybrid interpreting and tutoring program designed to help native Spanish-speaking students at Springville High School acclimate to the classroom. It seeks to help them get a better understanding of the criteria and what’s going on during discussions and assignments. 

Springville High School has a 25%  minority student enrollment, with about 20%  of those students being Hispanic. While many of those students do speak English fluently, often as a first language, others are still learning. Many of the teachers at Springville High School don’t speak Spanish, which creates a difficult language barrier between them and the ESL students.

Through the MLS Peer Tutoring program, bilingual tutors interpret for the student while also helping them get their homework done and understand the classroom discussions. However, the program goes beyond translation, with the tutors helping the students learn to navigate the American school system, including how to use the websites students regularly use in class, such as Canvas and Infinite Campus.

“I hope that this program can be used as a tool for the teachers and staff here to help out these Spanish-speaking kids and help them to learn and understand better,” Kailey said. “I can’t even imagine how frustrating it is to sit in a classroom and not understand what’s going on and then for the teacher to be frustrated because they don’t know how to help these kids just because they don’t speak the same language.” 

The idea for the program came to Kailey earlier in the school year, around the beginning of September. She had been talking to a teacher who told her he had a few students in his class who didn’t understand English. Parkinson thought that something needed to be done about the issue to ease the struggle for everyone involved. 

With the help of Ivan Cardenas, a Spanish teacher at the high school, Kailey made a presentation about the tutoring program. They presented their proposal to some of the administrators, counselors and teachers at the school. Following their presentation, the program was quickly implemented in a first phase.

There have, of course, been struggles during the launch of the program. For it to work, they’ve been relying on bilingual students from the school’s dual-immersion Bridge program. The students, including Kailey, have been learning Spanish since the age of five. This is a resource that many of the other schools don’t have. 

“We’re still sort of struggling with just how to do it and how to get it started, because we want the tutors and the ESL students to be able to form a relationship,”Kailey said. “We want them to build trust with one another and that’s just been a little bit difficult with lining up schedules, especially because we started in the middle of the year.”

Kailey is passionate about the project, and it’s something that she hopes will be able to continue. As for her, Kailey was recently named the Sterling Scholar for World Languages. She is also a member of the lacrosse team, the National Honor Society, and the Key Club, and she plans to graduate and pursue a degree in economics with a Spanish minor to pursue a career as a corporate attorney.

“I’m really hoping that this will make a difference in the lives of everybody involved,” she said. “(I hope) that the Spanish-speaking kids will start to understand the curriculum, teachers will have a little bit of that stress lifted off, and that the tutors find something that they are passionate about and that they’re helping and serving others.”

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