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Virtual Academy poses new challenges for ESOL students

“There’s no one I can like come up and call them and say, ‘I need help on this or that,’” said Herlinda, a junior at Benton High School enrolled in the ESOL Virtual Academy.

Posted: Nov 16, 2020 3:39 PM
Updated: Nov 17, 2020 9:47 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) For 104 students learning in the St. Joseph School District's Virtual Academy, learning behind a screen isn't their only learning barrier. 

“There’s no one I can like come up and call them and say, ‘I need help on this or that,’” said Herlinda, a junior at Benton High School enrolled in the ESOL Virtual Academy. 

Students learning English as their second language are facing new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic; they're learning from home. 

“We have had a lot of challenges in communication when it comes to our NES’s, which are our non-English speakers,” said Teresa Juhl, the Elementary ESOL teacher for SJSD Virtual Academy. 

Body language and gestures are crucial elements when it comes to learning a new language. Juhl said having to work around those physical teaching movements have been difficult. 

“When you think about learning a language, I can use my hands, I can point when you’re in-person. I can show you what I want you to do. We’re very limited on that in the electronic world,” said Mrs. Juhl. 

Herlinda has been learning English since Kindergarten. She said learning how to work the computer from her Spanish-speaking home has made this school year by far the hardest. 

“It’s so different from doing it in-person to doing it on the computer. When we’re in school, we communicate and do more on paper than we do on the computer,” said Herlinda. 

Mrs. Juhl has 17 students who started the school year on the Virtual Academy knowing no English. She said ESOL teachers are doing their best to break through that screen barrier.

“It’s been a big challenge, it has been. We have to get them where they can have a conversation. I can’t prompt a conversation if we don’t have any language, so we are starting with basics,” said Mrs. Juhl. 

ESOL teachers have been sending their English-language learners specifically tailored videos to fill that body language gap. 

"We can accommodate each individual student in what they need to learn specifically," said Mrs. Juhl.

Herlinda said having to learn English from home has made her realize how much she misses the classroom, "I do. I never thought I'd say that." 

THE ESOL department said there's 25 different home-spoken languages in the SJSD.

61% of ESOL students speak Spanish, 18% speak Chuukese and 8% speak Burmese. 

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