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Heritage hosts English Learner International Festival

Students decorate gingerbread cookies during the English Learner International Festival at Heritage Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)
Students decorate gingerbread cookies during the English Learner International Festival at Heritage Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – About 250 people attended the annual English Learner (EL) International Festival at Heritage Elementary School on Dec. 12.

The social event assembled EL student families from all campuses of Madison City Schools.

The festival “fosters good relations with parents of our English learners and bridges the gaps between home and local school environments,” Heritage EL teacher Michelle Phillips said. Families can “interact with teachers socially, giving everyone a positive perspective of Madison City Schools and the EL program.”

Approximately 15 percent of Madison students speak a language other than English in their homes, Phillips said.

EL teachers in Madison are Robin Stutts, Debbie Baeder, Maria Jones and Phillips for elementary; Sharon Rowland, high schools; and Ramona Greathouse, middle schools. At-risk coordinator Sharon Willis also supported the cross-cultural event.

Elementary EL teachers provide “research-based English language instruction through thematic lessons and teach English through reading, writing, listening and speaking activities,” Phillips said. Secondary teachers conduct classes for English and instruction that supports learning skills and strategies.

For the event, families shared traditional ethnic dishes, from cornhusk-wrapped tamales to sushi and rice dishes and desserts like flan, baklava, puddings and cookies. “Unfortunately, the teachers did not get to eat any of the food because we were too busy socializing with all the parents that attended,” Phillips said jokingly.

Parents got involved with make-and-take activities by decorating a gingerbread house and cookies, icicles, bookmarks and bead art. “All activities were planned to help with oral language, fine motor skills and creativity,” Phillips said.

The festival “bolsters parental involvement with their child’s education and fosters a sense of community among EL families,” Phillips said. “It brings a stronger sense of community within the system’s schools.”

Families from the same cultures can interact, giving “a sense of comfort. They can identity with experiences that other families have experienced in their move to Madison,” Phillips said.

In past years, the state of Alabama referred to the EL program as “English Language Learners” (ELL) or “English as a Second Language (ESL).

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