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BHS innovative program earns:Education Excellence Award



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July 02, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- About 130 students in this school district speak English as their second language.

These students bring to the district 16 different languages in which they are fluent, including Spanish, Hmong (native to Laos), Polish, German, Italian and French. An innovative program at Brandon High School which educates the ESL speakers while also acquainting their native English speaking peers with foreign cultures was recognized this year with an Excellence in Education Award, a first for the district. The award is given by the Michigan Association of School Boards.

"This award validates that what we are doing is working and we can see that through the success of the students," said Seema Sarna, ESL coordinator for the district.

Sarna has been with the district for seven years, since the beginning of the language arts class which is being honored. The class involved about 18-20 ESL students, as well as four to five students who are native English speakers whom take the class as an elective. The goal of the class is to involve the fluent English speakers as role models and mentors for the non-fluent students.

While the fluent students were considered primarily as helpers, the program benefits them as well, Sarna notes, as they learn about a variety of foreign cultures even as they assist ESL students in feeling more a part of the community.

"Since we started this, more students want to be part of the class," said Sarna. "We have seen tremendous growth. The native speakers are excited to be part of the class... We have seen a lot of change in the past six years with the community embracing diversity. Several teachers have been trained to instruct this specific population (ESL students)."

Brian Moore, language arts teacher, said the students who choose the class as an elective have a great chance to help and be part of something bigger than themselves.

"The kids have embraced it and it's bigger than a class," he said. "Friendships and bonds have developed and kids are asking if they can get in for the next year. I don't know of any other districts doing this."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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