University at Buffalo undergraduate students have been participating in a literacy training program at a Buffalo Public School. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says they are teaching students from around the globe how to read in English.
Inside a classroom at Public School 6 Buffalo Elementary School of Technology on South Division, a group of international students are gathered around a table listening to each other read.
Newcomers in the city school district often struggle to learn English. But Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash approached UB's Suzanne Rosenblith, dean of Graduate Education, last fall.
Cash suggested undergraduate students assist with a reading program with the English language learners. They made it happen and 12 UB students helped launch the pilot program. We met with a group of sixth graders during their last session.
"What do you like about this reading program?" Buckley asked. "I'm learning about new stuff and buildings, so it's pretty fun," said Ahmed.
Ahmed is from Iraq. He said it has been hard to adjust at school.
"I think leaning and learning about new stuff," he responded.
"So we have students from students from Bangladesh, Button, Burma. We have students from Thailand who are Burmese refugees that moved to Thailand. We have students from Congo, Somalia, Kenya,” said Shauna McMahon, English as a New Language Coach at School 6.
McMahon said about 15 to 20 international students participated in the literacy program. Their biggest challenge is adjusting to life in an American school as they navigate through the reading and language barriers.
"There's a lot more confidence in reading and the students are moving faster in their reading levels because they're being exposed to someone modeling good reading skills and using reading strategies with them," remarked McMahon.
The Buffalo school school students enjoy seeing the college students in their classroom. Natali arrived from Syria with her family almost two years ago.
"It's really fun. I learned a lot of stuff," Natali stated.
"I am very fortunate to have this partnership land at School 6," said Principal Karen Piotrowski.
Piotrowksi is proud her school was selected for the pilot project and declared it a great success. WBFO asked if she expects the school district will try to expand the program in other schools.
"I absolutely do. I think there's plan for some summer programming through the Jumpstart program, and they probably will be joining in other schools because our ELL population is growing, but we want to definitely keep them housed at School 6," Piotrowksi replied.
UB is hoping to expand the program with the city school district in the future. Christiania Kfouri is an instructor at UB's Department of Learning and Instruction. UB students worked with the newcomers to generate literacy skills.
"They're doing great. I think they found a connection right from the beginning that they do have certain limitation, so they put themselves in their shoes," said Kfouri. "They were very good at improvising with the students, trying to work around ways of building their vocabulary and communicating."
Although there is no undergraduate education program at UB, the student volunteers come from a variety of majors. Amanda Lomber is completing her second year majoring in business administration.
"The first day everyone was so shy and quiet, didn't really want to read and now they're all like, 'Oh like I want to read', so it became less me reading to them and more them reading to me, and I just kind of help them along the way because they all know what they are doing - they're all very smart," Lomber explained.
Lomber delivered a very upbeat personality as she skillfully worked with the sixth graders guiding them through a reading session.
Those WBFO spoke called this literacy program a win-win; newcomers developed reading skills and undergraduate students completed a fulfilling volunteer program.
"It sounds like it's been very rewarding for you?" asked Buckley.
"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done," responded Lomber.