Scholarly Exploration in El Barrio

Andre Marston, Education Collaborator

Andre Marston is a junior majoring in Romance Languages. He has worked in East Harlem through America Reads with his cooperating teacher of two years, an ESL/bilingual educator at M.S. 45. His future goals revolve around higher education and translation as they are powerful ways to enable people to become more global citizens and empower others.

Education is undoubtedly one of the basic fundamentals from which a society grows and develops. Academics foster intellectual inquiry and can provide a plethora of opportunities. Though the merits of getting a diversified education are near interminable, the challenges that have long plagued the educational experience remain. Socioeconomic disadvantages create imbalances that skew the accessibility of resources in favor of certain demographics while marginalizing and excluding others. Fixing such inequities is no simple task because they are rooted in already complicated factors such as race, ethnicity, class, and citizenship. Nevertheless, these obstructions are not insurmountable. My time working for a middle school English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in East Harlem has strongly reaffirmed my belief in differentiated teaching and learning’s positive impact on underprivileged youth, especially those who are new to this country.

I began working with Ms. Adrian Spatzer in September of 2010 after being placed in her class through America Reads. The idea of getting to work directly in the classroom as a college freshman was exciting enough. But little did I know all I would witness and in which I would participate. First of all, the class’ demographics were unlike any I had encountered before. The students were all English Language Learners (ELLs), and an overwhelming majority hailed from the Hispanophone Caribbean and Latin America. Some had been in the United States for a couple years; some arrived only a few days prior. As a result, there was a wide range in speaking ability in addition to the existing language barrier. Amazingly, the expert teacher knew from the beginning how to turn a tough situation into a learning experience for everyone.

Ms. Spatzer was responsible for teaching English Language Arts and Science. For the former subject, she split the class into two groups: the beginners and the moderate to advanced ELLs. Her student teacher and I worked together with the beginning-level students. Meanwhile, Ms. Spatzer worked with the more English-proficient group. This established a classroom dynamic from the start that is essential to a productive environment. The students responded well to the arrangement because their respective needs were the focal point. For the latter subject, she utilized a bilingual format to its fullest advantage. The students had the option of taking the class in their more academically dominant language. So approximately half of them took the class in English, and the rest received translated copies of the curriculum material. Spatzer then took advantage of my proficiency in Spanish by having me interpret as she spoke. We became a duo that could keep the whole class engaged simultaneously. Her enthusiasm did not stop there. She invested her own money into purchasing lab supplies so they could do experiments and had them write lab reports on a regular basis. The eighth grade math teacher, a native Spanish speaker, employed the same strategy with this set of students. He went so far as to translate class materials into Arabic for the newly arrived young man from Yemen.

These collaborative and creative methods for teaching a group with different levels of English-speaking ability engendered active participation across the board. The results I saw were truly a testament to the great heights a class can reach with proper guidance and extra effort on everyone’s behalf. All the students passed the New York State Exams- many with flying colors. Furthermore, the 8th grade valedictorian and salutatorian were both ELLs. They delivered speeches at the graduation ceremony thanking their families and peers and giving a brief summary of their plans for high school. These are only a couple of the students’ various accomplishments.

After an incredible first year together, the teacher and I decided to take on a summer project in 2011 translating the entire science department’s documents and miscellaneous classroom materials into Spanish. We began the undertaking in June and finished in August. Seeing the fruits of our labor used in other ELL classes at the school the following academic year was beyond rewarding. The feeling was further enhanced by the curricular adjustments made by my teaching superior. To begin with, she put a renewed emphasis on nutrition since it normally did not receive the attention it deserved. Interactive assignments, films, experiments, and other assorted additions made the science curriculum for the year more dynamic and exciting to explore.

This level of dedication to offering a top-notch school experience despite financial difficulties is actually a key component to maintaining public health. The connections between academics and the wellbeing of the general public are certainly numerous. Scholastic opportunity and achievement open doors and allow young people to feel supported in their social efficacy. I have noticed this especially applies to students living in low-income areas. The students with whom I work come from humble backgrounds, and it is reflected in their work ethic. They go the extra distance at the inexhaustible encouragement of their teacher. They write essays and other compositions to articulately express themselves, are always excited to start examining a new topic in class, and read novels with increasing fluency. Their families work extra hard to provide, so these young adults greatly appreciate the incomparable value of an education. It is this kind of gratitude that keeps students motivated. Motivation, in turn, leads to progressive improvements that make our society a better place rife with active participants who think of ways to facilitate community empowerment.

Content definitely plays a significant role in the quality of education offered and the impact it leaves as well. As mentioned earlier, Ms. Spatzer wanted to delve extensively into nutrition. She brought in fascinating articles, the groundbreaking book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the eye-opening documentary Food, Inc. By incorporating all these resources, the class engaged in lively dialogue analyzing current issues in the food industry. They were critical of contemporary food processing procedures and postulated possible ways to rectify the situation. Moreover, they reflected on their own alimentary choices to see how they compared to national statistics. Conversations arose about disparities in food quality, prices, and options. In their neighborhoods they saw the overwhelming availability of unhealthy choices that quickly become addictive. These units exemplified the magnitude of education’s grand potential for younger generations, particularly those in urban centers like New York City. Students immediately began to re-evaluate their eating habits and thought of ways to improve their diet. Such retrospective keenness presented the chance to effect real change in themselves as well as those around them.

The nutrition section showcased the solid base upon which education rests, its ultimate purpose: self-empowerment. Teacher’s and other administrator’s influence only goes so far before the student’s own initiative must take the reins. It should be any outstanding teacher’s goal to promote independent critical thinking. Pooling together different resources that enhance learning in the face of economic adversity realizes such aims. Student empowerment contributes so much to society that the obstacles pale in comparison to the outcomes. All areas of study that are explored by enthusiastically inquiring minds consequently better public welfare in different ways.

Getting an education means more than simply getting a diploma with concomitant bragging rights. It signifies gaining a lucid consciousness of the world surrounding you. With this awareness comes a unique power. Intellectual power is exactly the tool necessary to give socially disadvantaged youth a platform to have their voices heard. I am without a doubt excited to see what the upcoming school year will bring with this amazing educator and her brilliant pupils.


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