Life learned in two languages

“Good morning Sean, good morning Sean, good morning Sean we’re glad you came to school,” the class of preschoolers sings out.

Teacher Tracy Canady starts each morning off with a round of songs.

She said activities like this often help new lessons stick in a student’s mind. “Whose shoes are orange?” Canady asks her bright-eyed students. “Jose’s shoes are orange,” the kids yell out.

Shapes and colors dominate the mornings of four-year-old Jose Luis Gallardo and his preschool friends at Alabaster’s YMCA.

They learn each, as well as other staple things like days of the week, through games and worksheets.

“We are not a daycare; we are a preschool,” said Canady. “We work on letters and numbers and colors and shapes. They do play, obviously, that’s how they learn at this age.”

Yet, playing for these kids revolves around managing life in two languages, a difficult feat for 4 and 5–year–olds whose parents often speak Spanish and whose teachers and peers speak English.

The International Children’s Initiative began in September 2007.

The program began because handfuls of non-English speaking parents in Shelby county already attended parenting and language courses through the Toyota Literacy Program.

Often, though, many parents had to skip classes because they couldn’t find babysitters.

This left both parents and kids without the tools needed to succeed.

“When parents don’t know the language, they can’t help their kids with school. If kids don’t know the language, it makes learning so much harder,” Canady said. “So, this program gives everyone an advantage by having the playing field leveled.”

The ICI currently serve 35 children in Shelby County. Their parents, meanwhile, attend Toyota Literacy Programs at Greystone, Valleydale and Meadow View Elementary Schools.

Canady said this helps because kindergarten isn’t what it used to be. Teachers expect students to show up armed with many tools already under their belt.

They must know their days of the week, how to write their name and at least basics such as raising their hand or sitting in a circle.