Bilingual teacher makes a difference in Cincinnati
April 13, 2010 · Print This Article
By Cindy Kranz
THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER
Margarita Chavez seamlessly shifted from English to Spanish and back again as she comforted a young Hispanic student who was in tears.
“I always try to speak in English to them, because I want them to learn, but when I see them very, very upset, I will talk to them in Spanish so maybe they relax,” said Chavez, lead teacher at a Head Start bilingual preschool classroom at the Thomaston Woods Community Center in Amelia in Clermont County.
Chavez believes parents feel better knowing their teacher can speak both English and Spanish.
“I think living in another country is a hard process,” she said. “I’ve been here 11 years. When I came here, I didn’t speak any English, so I can relate to these kids that are just coming to the United States.”
The school receives funding from Child Focus, it is the agency’s largest bilingual preschool and has been serving Spanish as well as English-speaking children for about three years.
As more Hispanics come to Cincinnati, many families are moving to the suburbs, including Clermont County, said Berta Velilla, Child Focus director of Early Learning Programs and a native of Spain.
Census figures from 2008 show that people of Latino heritage make up1.3 percent of Clermont County’s total population of more than 195,000.
“The number was steadily going up,” Velilla said. “What we found was we didn’t feel like we were supporting those kids and families appropriately because the kids were in small numbers.”
There are other Spanish-speaking children scattered in two or three other Head Start classrooms. This program has the largest number of Spanish-speaking children. Incorporating both English and Spanish throughout the day is stronger, mostly because Chavez is proficient in both languages, Velilla said.
The preschool classroom serves 17 English- and Spanish-speaking students in the afternoon, including six who are Hispanic.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Velilla said. “It exposes English-speaking children to a much more diverse environment.”
Shannon Robinson’s 4-year-old daughter, Kiden, attends the preschool.
“I just like the fact that they get to interact with other children in a school environment,” Robinson said. “It kind of teaches them the structure of what it will be like before they go to kindergarten.”
A bonus is interacting with students from different cultures. There are more Latino children in the classroom than when her son attended last year, she said.
“Kiden is only 4, and she doesn’t really know the difference, but I think it’s great.”
Emily McQuiston, a new itinerant teacher, will travel among several sites to work with dual-language learners in Spanish and English.
“We want them to be proficient in both because students learn English much better when they have a foundation in their home language,” McQuiston said. “If they learn to read and write in their home language, it’s much more easily transferred to English.”
Once the Census bureau gathers the population of Ohio, it is expected that the Hispanic count will have grown from about 212,000 to approximately 300,000.
Marcus Atkinson contributed to this story