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Evans Mills Primary named a state leader in helping foreign-born students learn English

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EVANS MILLS — Primary school students here are among the most proficient in the state at turning “hola” and “konnichiwa” into “hello.”

According to a report by New York Children’s Action Network, Evans Mills Primary School, part of the Indian River Central School District, is tied for fifth place in New York for English-language learners’ performance, and the school is the only one in the north country to make the top 10.

Nearly 90 percent of the student body is military-related, Principal Pamela L. Knight said. As of Monday, 28 students speaking Japanese, Thai, German, Spanish, Indonesian, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean and Georgian required special English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.

“They’re all very eager to learn,” said Rianna L. Morrow, who is a teacher assistant to ESOL head teacher Christina Edick, who is on maternity leave.

“With some of our kindergartners, we just finished up a unit on nursery rhymes,” Mrs. Morrow said.

She said that while learning the rhymes, students learn American culture and sentence structure and even math, by counting the legs on the spider that frightened Little Miss Muffet.

According to the Children’s Action Network website, the elementary school rankings are based on English and math proficiency in the third grade. The organization also ranks middle schools. What makes ESOL successful at Evans Mills, Mrs. Morrow and Mrs. Knight said, is teacher training and collaboration.

Mrs. Knight said she would talk to Alexander Sanchez-Contreras, 6, before he was picked up at the main office every day. The first-grader enrolled last year not knowing a word of English.

“I would talk to him about trains,” she said. “I had a train down there that I would put letters on.”

Alexander would have to put the letters in order for Mrs. Knight. She said he did not realize he was learning, because he was having fun.

On Monday, he was playing an iPad game with 7-year-old Rammah M. Badri, whose native language is Arabic.

“We’ve been using the iPad getting ready for a new pilot program,” said first-grade teacher Carrie A. Smith. “It’s really amazing down at this level how fast they pick it up. ESOL students have an amazing desire to learn.”

Mrs. Smith said she gets the bulk of the ESOL students every year. Students are pulled out of her class once or twice a day to go to the specialized ESOL class. She gives extra attention to those who are less proficient in English.

One of Mrs. Smith’s students, Kate C. Saito, 7, started school this year knowing only Japanese. This week, Kate was chatting happily in English with native Spanish-speaking Aryanis J. DeLeon, 7, and putting on a puppet show for her classmates.

“She came in very math-strong, coming from Japan,” Mrs. Smith said.

When it came to reading and writing, Kate needed one-on-one sessions while the rest of the class worked on other assignments.

“Collaboration between the teachers is huge,” Mrs. Smith said.

Mrs. Morrow said that although many students test out of the ESOL program, she still checks on them to see how they are doing.

Mrs. Knight said Mrs. Edick’s data-driven instruction and the amount of time the school has to work with the students are primary factors for the program’s success.

“We don’t just teach them and off they go,” Mrs. Knight said. “Their parents have bought a house here and they stay for three years. They’re a part of us.”

NYCAN’s Top 10 Schools report is at http://www.ny can.org/sites/nycan.org/files/report_cards/2013-NY CAN-Top10-Schools_0.pdf.

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