AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- it's the end of another school year in America, which explains why our guest had time to talk to us.
RS: Sandra Madriaga supervises an intensive English program in the local school system in Evansville, Indiana. The program, called the International Newcomers' Academy, started in January 2000. It's for middle and high school students. Buses take them to spend part of each school day at a central middle school or high school to learn English.
AA: Twenty-four-thousand students attend the public schools in Evansville. About two-hundred of them speak English as a second language. That's a small number, yet Sandra Madriaga says it was large enough that local educators had to do something to meet the needs of immigrant students.
MADRIAGA: "Our immigrant population here in the Midwest was changing rapidly. And locally, where we didn't have an immigrant population about 10 years ago, it started increasing, and more and more immigrants started coming. And while we do have a Hispanic population here, we also have a large Russian population, which is a little bit unusual for the state of Indiana. We have Chinese, we have some Pakistani and, like I said, quite a few Hispanics."
AA: "So now you've just wrapped up another school year. Tell us what were some of the things the students learned this year."
MADRIAGA: "Well, in the state of Indiana, and actually throughout the nation, we now have what's called English language proficiency standards. And this is something that is rather new in the United States and it is based on some legislation called No Child Left Behind, where every state has to come up with some standards. The way it applies to the immigrant students is that our immigrant population has to meet those same rigorous academic standards."
RS: "What is the difference between what they can learn in the classroom with their peers and what they can learn in an intensive center?"
MADRIAGA: "In a regular education program they are competing in a sense against students that have all the language skills that they're lacking. By coming to the academy, we take each child where they are and we assess when they enter the academy what their proficiency skills are. And then we design a program that's going to help them be able to exit from the International Newcomers' Academy and go into the regular ed program within a year or two years."
RS: "Now what happens to elementary school children? I see you talk about middle school and high school."
MADRIAGA: "In elementary school we have itinerant ESL instructors who travel around from building to building and serve the students in a one-on-one pullout program. We generally are able to meet with the student maybe three times a week and maybe for 40 minutes a day during those three visits. With the intensive program it is a daily three-hour program."
RS: "Let me ask you a question here. I think that a lot of our listeners would be interested in knowing, what is the key to learning English quickly? You run an intensive program, what's the key there?"
MADRIAGA: "I think something that you really need to dwell on is vocabulary, vocabulary development. If they can get some audio tapes, listen to audio tapes, get the pronunciation down. When you learn a new word, maybe keep a notebook of what that word means. In some cases I think something that was very successful for my students this year is we made flash cards. Many of them are very visual learners and that helped them with the spelling as well. So we would put the vocabulary word on one side and the definition and the part of speech on the other side.
"And then we would work with writing sentences and also trying to find those words in other parts of their life. I know at one time this year we had a whole unit on space vocabulary, and then the Columbia disaster happened -- "
AA: "The shuttle ... "
MADRIAGA: "The shuttle, so then they brought in newspapers and so forth, and so that was, you know, a real good application for the things that we had studied, that in fact these are not isolated words but really have application throughout their whole life."
AA: "Now what about American idioms -- how do you introduce kids to those and to acronyms, abbreviations?"
MADRIAGA: "That's really hard. I know that every week I'd put one idiom up on the board that was just kind of a fun thing that we would try to use throughout the week. We had things like 'floating on a cloud' or to be 'on cloud nine.'"
AA: "Meaning to be happy."
MADRIAGA: "To be happy, right."
RS: And one of the things that made the students happy was to learn the meaning of not just common idioms but also common educational jargon:
MADRIAGA: "When their first report cards came out, and at the bottom of the report card it had 'GPA' -- which stands for grade point average -- they didn't have any idea what a GPA was and why they heard other American students talking about the GPA."
AA: Sandra Madriaga, talking about the International Newcomers' Academy in Evansville, Indiana.
RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is [email protected] And our programs are on the Web at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.