A lot of kids in Metro schools have just completed their first full year of virtual schooling — and for the past few months, some of their parents have given it a try too. For the first time, English language classes for MNPS families were offered online. And the response was so good that it’s transforming how the district offers the classes going forward.
These classes are part of the Linking, Empowering and Advancing Families program, or LEAF. It’s a partnership between Metro Schools, Alignment Nashville and other community groups to connect families with English classes and local resources.
How it started
Molly Hegwood, with the district’s Office of English Learners, says LEAF classes initially ran in-person. But they were put on hold in the fall while families were still learning how to get their students into the classes they needed.
“There was a technology curve,” Hegwood says. “We were all trying to figure this out. And then by January families were hungry to do something.”
During the pandemic, every student in the district got a school-issued laptop to take home. An unintended consequence? Parents got access to that technology too. And it turned out to be huge for the LEAF program.
About 300 filled out the interest form. Classes got so popular that some parents had to be put on a waitlist or connected with another program.
The benefits of going remote
Instructors like Maria Leos found that online learning was more flexible for parents, and didn’t require a commute.
“The parents have been informing me that it’s much better because they do it through a phone, or they do it through their computer, and it’s something that doesn’t take a lot of time away from their family.”
Luz Adriana Ruiz Gonzalez has been learning English this semester, and she says that convenience is why the courses work so well for her. She’s a full-time parent who uses her son Yezzus’ computer to work through homework and exercises.
Ruiz Gonzalez started this semester as a complete beginner. So she was learning the basics: How to introduce yourself, say where you’re from, and share a phone number and an occupation.
As the semester went on, they drilled on new vocabulary and got chances to use what they’d learned in the real world. Ruiz Gonzalez says one day she was shopping at Lowe’s and another customer asked her where to find an item in her cart.
She says she did her best to describe where she got it. She’s not sure if the other customer ended up grabbing it, but she says what’s important is that she had the confidence to try.
And building that confidence in a new language is a big step in developing fluency. Adriana says she’s well on her way.
Students make strides
In a class later in the semester, Ruiz Gonzalez and her classmates were confidently answering question after question during a quiz. They’d moved from simply introducing themselves all the way to ordering food at a restaurant — a foundational, practical skill.
They’re learning the names of menu items, and reading short dialogues out loud, playing the roles of waiters and customers. They’ve made strides since the start of classes just a few months ago.
Some students still need a little push, though — one was hesitant to answer exercises, but with some encouragement from her teachers she went through a quiz and got every question right.
One of her instructors exclaimed in the video conference, “You said you didn’t know, and you know!” Another reinforced that message, saying, “See, you can do it.”
That’s the kind of encouragement that has Ruiz Gonzalez wanting to return to LEAF in the fall. She’s developed a bond with her instructors and hopes they can move up to the next level with her.
She says taking the classes makes her feel proud, and like she’s setting a good example for her son.
Thanks to this semester’s success, LEAF will keep virtual learning as an option going forward. And they’re considering ways to be more adaptable for families in the future.
MNPS says about 100 parents are already interested in the classes that begin next semester.