Migrant School

Let Language Flow Migrant Education Program help ELL Students

MEP students fishing at Water Works with the S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie in the summer.

The Migrant Education Program, #MEP, is a program for students who have immigrated to Erie from many different countries. The main purpose of MEP is to simply “provide supplemental education and support services,” says Mercedes Kocan, one of the main directors of the program.

MEP’s Summer of 2022 poster painted by the students. (Contributed photo/Nicole Schalk)

The program helps students to learn English and interact with kids, from not only the United States, but also many other places around the world. Students in grades K-9 can participate in the program. The teachers involved in the program work hard to make sure the kids are learning a lot, but also make sure they are having fun. Some of the lessons the students learn are math, English, social studies, science, and art. Most of the students that come to the program normally don’t speak English or understand it. Although, their sisters, brothers, or friends might speak English and translate it back to them in their language. This past summer, the program had about 100 students, many from Afghanistan.

“These students are as fun, brave, and interesting as any other student is,” Kocan says. “Language could be a big barrier but it should not stop anyone from showing their true personality and skills.”

Most of the teachers at MEP take their time to make sure the students understand them clearly. The main key to being a teacher at MEP is to be flexible at all times, whether that means being patient when teaching or just being prepared for anything that comes their way.

Kocan has suggested that when helping an ELL student to, “respect the student’s timeline. Patience and persistence will make a big difference.”

Some of the students might be engaged in hearing what a teacher has to say, whereas others might think what they are learning is not important and they might zone out as a teacher is explaining something to them. English speakers might find it rude for kids to do that, but getting angry and upset will never help when trying to teach the student a foreign language.

Morgan Cook, an aide at the program for two years, has said that when interacting with others who speak different languages, “gives us a unique and innocent view of the places they come from.” So whether someone thinks that speaking or interacting with a person from another country is weird, it benefits everyone involved.

Nicole Schalk, the art teacher at MEP for two years, has found many different ways of making the directions in class clear for her students. “With language being a new barrier, I found that visuals such as demonstrations and examples are the main keys for students to learn. Images are a universal way of understanding,” Schalk said.

At MEP, they try to always have an interpreter in order to assist the students with directions and conversations with their teachers.

Sometimes at MEP, some of the students might know a small amount of English, but never speak it or just would rather speak their own language. Although, there might be times where the students know what a teacher is saying and understand them, but the student is pretending to not know what the teacher are saying.

MEP students 5th and 6th grade in front of the Leddy G. Howard ship in the summer. (Contributed photo/Morgan Cook)

Schalk says that when this happens, she simply tries her best to “reach everyone in the room that I can and give them the best experience possible.”

At MEP, they try to give all these students an excellent experience no matter what, whether that’s with learning new things or just getting introduced to different environments. This program attempts to offer every kid experiences that they will carry with them and remember for the rest of their lives.

“Every year we try to offer experiences while providing educational services,” Kocan says. Some of the kids at this program might not want to do any of the fun activities, but the teachers always give them the options of whether or not they would like to do it or not.

“We’re making a huge impact on these kids by giving them positive experiences in environments they may never have experienced.” Cook explains.

Last summer the students went to the Maritime Museum, the Erie Public Library and a boat ride on the Leddy G. Howard. All of these activities allowed the students to be exposed to new environments with many different people. Some more of these experiences also include fishing with the S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie, playing on the playground or taking walks on the beach.

“This past summer was so enriching for me personally because I got to see and experience some cultural nuances that we don’t really think about in our own lives,” Cook explains.

Cook also says that when interacting with these students she learns about their “food, clothing choice, and interactions between girls and boys that may seem strange to us but are completely normal to them.”

When overcoming barriers with others, it allows Americans to better understand what others refer to as their normal, rather than see things as unnatural.