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Mary Beth Smith: Early Childhood English Tutoring in Jonesboro

Photo Credit:  KAIT8 News

Note:  ABC News interviewed Mary Beth about this experience as part of a national story on the pandemic-related challenges faced by children who are English Language Learners. Her interview starts at minute 5:00 at this link:

At the beginning of May, I proposed a project that would include me teaching English to Hispanic children through the Hispanic Center of Jonesboro. At the time, COVID-19 had caused schools to be shut down, so the children from local elementary schools were being sent packages of work to do each week for the rest of the regular school year. I had the idea of helping teach Hispanic children the content, since most of their families cannot understand the instructions or the content. I contacted the Hispanic Center of Jonesboro with hopes of being paired with someone to help, and they were able to assign me a little boy who was finishing up Kindergarten. In my original proposal, I had thought I would be paired with two little boys, but the other’s father did not have the time outside of work to arrange our tutoring sessions. However, this summer session has been wonderful with the one boy I did get to work with, and I am very glad that I was able to spend so much time with him!

Normally, the Hispanic Center would be open for the children to get tutoring in the building, but because of COVID-19, we had to work together virtually. We began by speaking over the phone, but hoped that an IPad would become available for him to be able to Facetime. An IPad was finally available, but they are still trying to raise money to get Wi-Fi. Therefore, all of our sessions ended up being over the phone. My original goal was to meet with this little boy twice a week for around one hour each day. The other days of the week, I planned to prepare for our sessions and come up with activities for him to use during and outside of our sessions. I was able to achieve these expectations. Some of our sessions ran shorter than others, either because of lack of planning enough or because of the little boy losing his attention. However, every session was at least forty minutes, so in my opinion we had a good amount of time put in each time we met.  I used the dual-language method to teach during all of these sessions, which means we used about 50% English and 50% Spanish. This method has been proven to be very effective, and I believe it truly was in this case as well. 

Outside of our sessions, I planned for our next meeting and made materials that would be helpful for his learning. When I began working with him, I was able to figure out where his skill level was by seeing what he knew and didn’t know from the packages his teachers expected him to practice. From there, I was able to make activities such as an interactive calendar, an interactive hundreds chart, and a rhyming words folder. I also found worksheets online and a couple short stories that were around his skill level. One of the best materials I used over the summer with him was a phonics workbook that I bought. This was extremely helpful for him, considering the English language is extremely different from the Spanish language when it comes to phonics. 

My biggest obstacle was having to meet solely over the phone. Because of this, I had a duplicate for everything, so we could both see the materials and work with each other. Also, it can be difficult to explain some things without using visuals, so I have had to learn how to explain things really well in Spanish and know how to be fully prepared for each session. The first couple of weeks were pretty difficult, considering I have never tried to teach someone without visuals, but I was able to adjust and it ended up being very successful!