How Do ESL Teachers Use DonorsChoose.org
to Help Disadvantaged Students Overcome
Poverty and Language Barriers?
By Sarah H. Smith
Teachers of English as a Second Language in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County have used funding obtained through DonorsChoose.org to help address the disadvantages that impoverished students and students with non-English speaking parents face in developing English language literacy, according to an analysis of fully-funded projects as of June 2016. They have done this by asking donors to contribute to the purchase of English language or bilingual Spanish/English books that students can bring home to read by themselves or with a parent. In this way, teachers are taking action to address the circumstances beyond the four walls of their classrooms that make it more difficult for students to develop literacy in English.
Many students experiencing poverty have little to no access to books at home with which to practice reading. In her request for funding for popular children’s books that students would be able to take home, Mrs. H, a first grade teacher at a high-poverty school, noted that at least ten of her students did not have any books at home to read or have read to them. For students to improve their literacy practices, it is important they read at school and at home, writes Ms. A, a high school teacher who received funding for fifty books from various genres for her English Language Learners.
However, classrooms often lack a sufficient variety of books to allow students to take them home to help them explore new worlds and discover a love of reading. Ms. C, a kindergarten teacher at a high-poverty school, requested funding for books to supplement her limited library, noting that a bigger library would permit students to borrow books to take home and would “allow [her] students to explore the worlds that exist beyond their neighborhood, something that they might not get to do otherwise.”
Students whose parents do not speak English, meanwhile, often lack opportunities to develop literacy with the help of a parent. Therefore, a number of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County ESL teachers have requested funding for bilingual Spanish/English books through DonorsChoose.org. Often, non-English speaking families want to help their children be successful in school but are unsure about how to do so, notes Mrs. H, an elementary ESL teacher at a high-poverty school. Therefore, she requested funding for bilingual Spanish/English books so that parents could read to their children in Spanish and the children could read back to them in English, helping them develop literacy in both Spanish and English.
Similarly, Ms. S, who teaches Pre-K, received funding for a set of ten bilingual Spanish/English books; now, when she assigns reading a book with a parent as homework, students whose parents only know Spanish are not precluded from doing the assignment and have the opportunity to be read to at home. Ms. R, a preschool teacher, also received funding for bilingual Spanish/English books to send home with her students each day; she requested this resource so that all families could help nurture and develop reading practices by reading to their children.
It appears, based on the ESL teachers’ requests, that Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools may not be resourced to fund the kinds of lending libraries and bilingual book collections that teachers want to provide their English language learners. Therefore, DonorsChoose.org is filling a critical need in our community. As poverty continues to plague the county and more immigrants move to the area, it is likely that teachers will continue to rely on DonorsChoose.org unless the state of North Carolina increases funding available for appropriate materials that students can bring home to help them develop crucial literacy skills.