NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS FACE CHALLENGES IN VIRTUAL LEARNING
AppleMagazine|AppleMagazine #473
Aporine Shabani escaped violence in Congo to find a better life for her children in Scranton.

As coronavirus cases surge in her new city, the refugee wants to help her sons learn virtually, but she can’t read the lessons.

“I’m really worried for what my children are missing,” she said through a Swahili translator last week in her West Scranton apartment. “How can I explain to my children when I don’t know English?”

As virtual learning continues in much of northeast Pennsylvania, including the Scranton School District, families struggle with technology issues and child care and worry about children falling behind.

For the city’s refugee community and other families not fluent in English, the challenges are far greater.

“It is heartbreaking,” said Sonya Sarner, refugee immigration services program director for Catholic Social Services in Scranton. “I don’t know how to help them.”

The number of English learners — or those who speak a different language and are unable to communicate fluently in English — continues to grow in the Scranton School District. As of last week:

__ 9.3% of students, or 859, require English Learners (EL) services.

__ 25%, or 2,369 students, speak two or more languages and live in a home where the primary language is not English.

__ Students speak 52 languages other than English and come from 62 different countries.

The pandemic forced the financially strapped district to find new ways to communicate with families. Schools set up tables outside to show families how to turn on their laptops. Teachers and principals knock on doors to check on students. Staff continues to develop new ways to convey information.

“Obviously it’s not ideal,” said Maggie Cosgrove, EL program manager for the school district. “But, teachers are doing everything they can do to reach these students and learn their stories.”

ENGLISH LESSONS

As the sun sets in South Scranton, the bright light from a classroom illuminates the sidewalk on Cedar Avenue. Small flags hang from the walls inside, next to posters on English grammar rules.

Parents finish a page in their English workbooks, while their children receive help with virtual lessons. The pandemic initially forced all English classes offered by the United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania online, but families needed in-person support.

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