ourBRIDGE Afterschool Program in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of a kind. It serves over 70 refugee and immigrant elementary school aged children. These children hail from countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Vietnam, Iraq, Gambia, Mexico, and more. The staff members are almost as diverse as the children, as many of the afterschool tutors are from countries such as Scotland, Argentina, Bhutan, Brazil, Indonesia, Ecuador and the USA.
A typical day at ourBRIDGE begins at 3 p.m. It is “all hands on deck” as soon as the doors open. Children begin by working on the Problem of the Day, a math word problem aligned with the North Carolina Common Core Standards. An important part of our English Proficiency program, the problems are relevant to what each grade is working on in school. Because they are word problems, the students not only need to understand the math, but they also need to understand the English, which is explained by our tutors.
Students also write in their journals. Each journal entry is based on a specific topic designed by our tutors, and its aim is to improve English written communication skills. Students are then fed delicious, healthy food which is appropriate to specific cultural and religious diets.
At 3:50 p.m., it is time for “Whole Group.” This is a small assembly for all the children from Kindergarten to Grade 5. I lead the group along with Andrew Eastwood, the Program Director, who taught English as a second language for ten years in South East Asia and South America.
Our first activity “Stars of the Day,” is the children’s favorite. Each tutor has the opportunity of awarding a star to one of the children. This accolade can be given for success in an academic endeavor or for showing kindness, respect or compassion on any level. Next, “Hearts of the Day.” This is equally as popular. Here the children can choose another child who has shown an act of kindness towards them.
After Whole Group, the children work on homework. Homework is a top priority, as most of the children have no access to computers or assistance at home as their parents rarely speak English. Once the homework is completed, tutors lead small groups through fun, hands-on projects that range from STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), to anti-bullying approaches and other activities designed to increase children’s confidence and self-esteem. Activities are often planned around holidays and cultural celebrations, and are designed to support English language acquisition.
On Wednesday the tutors lead an activity which involves both reading comprehension and a hands-on activity. For example, the students will read a short passage on weather and cloud formation. After reading, which involves recognizing new vocabulary, and answering comprehension questions, the students make a cloud of their very own using glass jars, water, and a match (tutors do this part!). After completing the activity, each group participates in a discussion. Much of the English acquisition at ourBRIDGE is through practical activities and talking about what we have learned.
Born and raised in Scotland, Linda Lang is a British-trained educator, with 25 years of experience around the world in special education, remedial therapy, elementary classroom teaching, learning support, and intensive tutoring. After receiving her teaching diploma in the UK, Linda traveled overseas to hold international teaching appointments at schools in Abu Dhabi and South Africa, including 14 years as a Senior Teacher and Learning Therapist at Crossroads School, a distinguished remedial ‘clinic-school’ in Johannesburg.