English language learners in Oak Ridge’s four public elementary schools are becoming experts on the Titanic as they conduct science experiments to learn about icebergs, build boats with straws, and explore the historic event as they read history and fiction.
The first- through fourth-graders are taking “A Titanic Voyage for English Language Learners,” a project helping them become more confident in their English skills through a variety of learning experiences. The four English as a second language, or ESL, teachers received a $1,544 grant from the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation last year to buy materials needed for the multi-school project.
The grant will also make possible a field study on May 5 at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, where students will draw on their studies to have discussions and ask questions as they build on their knowledge of the Titanic and of English.
“They are getting science, social studies, and all the language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing,” said Cherie Adcock, ESL teacher at Woodland Elementary School. “Their response has been great, and they are excited.”
After their field study, the students will develop presentations about the Titanic for their peers in the regular classrooms, she said.
“They will return to their schools as ‘experts,’ and in teams, share their knowledge with their mainstream classrooms, thereby providing them a huge boost in confidence, a critical component in English language learners’ academic success,” Adcock said.
A Titanic bulletin board in a Woodland hallway has created a buzz at the school among all students, Adcock said, as students not in ESL classes had questions and comments about the Titanic for the ESL students.
“It has given the ESL students a place of respect, a place of envy for the moment. Sometimes it is hard for them to break in with the (non-ESL) kids, and that is one of the goals for their presentations in the classrooms when we come back,” Adcock added.
At Willow Brook Elementary School, Leah Henry’s ESL students have created timelines to represent their history, explored immigration in the 1900s, learned how the Titanic was built, and designed a room on the ship. At Glenwood Elementary School, Yi-Ching “Kat” Sakovich’s students have studied transportation, maps, and a Titanic timeline. One experiment involved building a boat with straws and plastic wrap that would hold 25 pennies before sinking, and another involved predicting which objects would sink or float. At Linden Elementary School, Leandra Hill’s ESL students are studying life in the early 1900s, the people on the Titanic, and experimenting with ice cubes to mimic how icebergs appear in water.
Adcock was one of only two ESL teachers when she joined Oak Ridge Schools staff in 2005. Now, each elementary school has an ESL teacher as the numbers of English language learners has grown. The school district has 184 English language learners, or 3.6 percent of the total student population, this school year, compared with 1.6 percent in 2005. Adcock has 37 English language learners in her classes at Woodland.
“They come from homes where Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Telugu, Hmong, and Gujarati may be the language of family communication,” she said of students in the four elementary schools.
The teachers have found the joint study to be valuable both to the students and teachers.
“We have enjoyed this so much that we have decided we are going to do this again on a different topic. It has had a real positive effect for us instructionally, in the way we have designed the units, as teachers, which filters down to the kids,” Adcock said.
The Education Foundation grant the ESL teachers received was among 16 grants totaling $80,000 that the Education Foundation awarded in 2014. Since 2005, the Education Foundation has awarded more than $568,000 in grants. The 2015 grants will be awarded this spring.
The Education Foundation is continuing its support of Oak Ridge public schools through its “Making the Critical Difference” campaign to raise $500,000 for grant awards of $100,000 a year for five years for all the schools. The grants program offers one-time grants to teachers for resources to enhance learning for students in pre-k through high school. The Education Foundation board believes that these grants have a strong supporting role in sustaining the tradition of excellence in Oak Ridge schools.
The Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000, invests in Oak Ridge Schools to ensure the highest quality of education for its students. The foundation, providing funds beyond public tax dollars for education, raises funds through grants and private donations to invest in enhanced educational programming, innovative technology, and state-of-the-art facilities for teachers and students.
For more information about making a donation to the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation, call Jessica Steed at the foundation office at (865) 241-3667 or see the foundation’s website at www.orpsef.org.