New home, new friends

A local ESL program helps young newcomers acclimate.

By Wendy Rose Gould

Finding yourself in an unfamiliar country is trying enough, but not being able to read or speak the native language can make the transition significantly more difficult. Programs that teach English as a Second Language help non-English speaking students and refugees acclimate more smoothly to life in the United States. 

The ESL program at Palmer Elementary in Newport News, Virginia, serves children arriving from areas of South America, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. When members of the Kiwanis Club of Peninsula at Oyster Point — which has a longstanding relationship with the school — learned about the program in 2020, they were eager to help. 

To date, the club has donated US$1,600 to Palmer Elementary’s ESL Newcomers program. These funds have helped the school secure classroom resources, plan virtual field trips and bring guest speakers into the classroom. Money has also helped with the purchase of winter clothing, which some children didn’t have when they arrived in the United States. 

“In the ESL Newcomers program, the children are taught English, math, history and even some cultural information about their new home,” explains Joseph Slabinski, club president. “These programs will also help their families, as students can log into the programs while they are home.” 

The club also helps the children with gardening. This gives students an additional opportunity to learn and practice English, make friends and feel more connected to their new home — all while providing healthy foods they can bring home.

Over the years, the Kiwanians also have participated in reading programs, purchased dictionaries for young students and funded LeapFrog learning stations. The ESL Newcomers program is another opportunity for members to connect with students and foster education in a meaningful way. 

“We have the ability to help these students with their learning and show them that America has people that are concerned and willing to help others in need,” says Slabinksi. “We will always be there to help the children of Palmer Elementary.”

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