Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Origins of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn their faith.

The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments

3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues

4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation

7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments

11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles

12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Studying and Teaching in Calabria - Fall 2008 MDTESOL

by Laurel Conran, ESOL Team Leader, Howard County Public Schools, MDTESOL Elementary IS Co-Chair

As an ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, I spend my summers traveling abroad to increase my cultural proficiency and knowledge of educational and language barriers that my international families face daily. This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to study abroad and to discover the Mediterranean culture in Calabria on the southern tip of Italy. The view of the vistas across the rugged mountains, cosmic golden wheat fields and crystal clear seas and the age old olive trees that grow as tall as eucalyptus took me back into history. I was able to walk the streets of medieval towns and tour the beautiful Byzantine churches. I was able to experience the opulent language and culture of Calabrese. I was able to practice the language in real-life environments with the townspeople at the fruttivendolo (fruit vendor), ristorante (restaurant), panetteria (bakery), pasticceria (pastry shop-cafe`), edicola (newspaper and magazine stand), etc. They welcomed me with an insurmountable hospitality at the supermarkets, pubs and stores.
Most of the merchants had studied English as a foreign language in both high schools and universities.  However, many may not have had the opportunity to interactively speak English. Therefore, I facilitated several English conversational classes for the Calabrese. Michelangelo La Luna, Ph.D., the program director wanted to open this relatively unknown area of rich culture and history to American tourism, so with the assistance of Giovanni Braico , a student intern, coordinated the townspeople interested in increasing their English-speaking conversational skills. Not only were the people receptive to conversing in English, the Calabrese introduced me to the romance language of Italian, idiomatic expressions, culture, as well as the Arbëreshë (pronounced Arbesh) culture.

I met Giovanni Braico, who is fluent in Italian, Spanish, English, as well as his regional dialect. Presently, he is attending the Università della Calabria in Arcavacata di Rende working towards his Masters in Languages and Modern Literatures, Philology, Linguistics and Translation. I asked Giovanni to provide me with the history of the languages in Calabria.

The languages spoken in Calabria are Italian, Calabrese dialects, (which are not officially recognized as different languages and they change from town to town) and Arbëreshë, which is spoken only in small towns in some of the regions in Calabria. The Arbëreshë language has evolved from the old Albanion language of the 15th century and has inevitably been influenced by both the Italian language and Calabrese dialects throughout the centuries. Arbëreshë still preserves some features of the Albanian spoken in pre-Ottoman Albania. The language is not legally recognized (only the village of Hora e Arbëreshëvet in Sicily recognizes the Arbëreshë language), nor is it a written language. Arbëreshë, the social language of some Calabrese, is learned on the street and passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, some Arbëreshë has been lost in this process. Periodically, the media comes for a cover story on the preservation of the language. Albanian, which is different from Arbëreshë, is taught as a foreign language to preserve the language at Liceo Ginnasio High School in San Demetrio It is not taught in any other Arbëreshë town.

Like Giovanni, many of the Calabrese/Italians are well educated with university degrees and have a wealth of knowledge and experience. However, with the high unemployment rate in Italy, and other countries alike, many people come to America for employment and other opportunities. Immigrants coming to America face language and cultural barriers. As I have learned from Giovanni, many immigrants coming to America have difficulty learning English because they have a national language and want to preserve their historical language and regional dialects.

However, adult immigrants in the United States need to be able to communicate with their children’s classroom teachers, and so they must be knowledgeable of the educational system in the United States. The collaboration between home and school that is emphasized in the United States may not exist in immigrants’ native countries. Therefore, these families need assistance to bridge this cultural difference.
The increasing cultural and linguistic diversity resulting from the increase in enrollment of English Language Learners challenges school administrators and teachers to involve international parents who are unfamiliar with the American educational system. Parents from linguistic and racial minority cultures and communities often observe their role and the school’s role in educating their children differently mainly because school traditions and customs in their home country differ considerably from those in American schools. As a result, families may rarely visit the school, meet teachers, or volunteer in school events. School administrators, teachers, and staff can strengthen communication with international families by promoting and supporting parental involvement and student achievement. The goal is to strengthen community services and organizations across the county to ensure that all English language learning communities have equal access to all information and resources about their school system’s policies, and academic resources to excel academic achievement. Using the handbook, Raising Children in a New Country, I propose the following to help our international families assimilate into their new culture.
Communication with English Language Learning Parents

According to the BRYC (Bridging Refugee Youth & Children Services) illustrated handbook, Raising Children in a New Country, “the key to begin the open lines of communication is to decide on the school’s priorities when it comes to ELLs and their parents. The collaboration of the principal, ESOL teacher, PTA, and bilingual liaison plays a key role in many ways by setting school-wide goals that establish the achievement of English language learners, provide ongoing directions and monitoring of curricular and instructional strategies, and promote a good physical and social and safe environment. To accomplish these, there needs to be a strong interest in parental involvement and collaboration/partnership with school staff and community businesses. Administrators could stress the recruitment of racial, linguistic, and cultural minority parents and accentuate the importance of creating a warm and welcoming environment. One way to begin is to plan one or more parent evening meetings to create an open communication by building a bridge between home, school, administration, and the community.
International families come to America with a wealth of parenting strengths, drawing on their traditions, culture, and family experiences. Coming to America, they have sacrificed tremendously to give their children an opportunity for a better education and to excel in this new country. However, newcomer parents often need assistance adapting to their new physical environment with unaccustomed dangers; the loss of extended family and community support, and family role changes.”

Using these following steps may help facilitate one of your first outreach programs in your county/school:

  • Establish a plan and desired outcomes for parent involvement. Provide basic information newcomer families need to know about their school, U.S. laws, parenting practices, and PTA organized conversational.
  • Identify the families who could benefit from participation. Newcomer Parents with low levels of English proficiency with children preschool age to teenagers in high school may need to learn new ideas on how to teach math and reading.
  • Determine the logistics. Outreach programs can be held for newcomer families in the school, churches, community centers or businesses.
  • Plan and implement general marketing and publicity of the programs. Post signs of the outreach events at neighborhood stores, restaurants, etc.
  • Recruit community resources of targeted immigrant and refugee families of acclimated successful students.
  • Identify what information should be presented and provide handouts in English and the predominant language(s) of a majority of the parents. Parent and Teacher conferences, public health information, Code of Conduct, school events such as “Pajama Day”
  • Plan for a means to collect surveys (both school and families) to determine if more meetings are needed and determine the frequency. Surveys may be translated into parents’ first language.

Facilitating outreach programs for international families and engaging them in learning English and their new culture connects them to their children’s education, school and the people in their community! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

"What is Turkey, Dressing and Mashed Potatoes?"

A new immigrant family arrived into our community.  The young mother received a box of food. During the Parent and Teacher conferences  (with an interpreter),  she asked me how to prepare these items.

I went to her home to find the box of food on the bare kitchen floor. It was a turkey, 1 box of stuffing mix, and a box of mashed potato flakes. She showed me her kitchen. She did not own any baking dishes or pans.

If someone gave you this package, could you prepare it for dinner?
This made me think of the families that receive these plentiful gifts but do not know how to use/cook them.  It is that time of year when our community schools, churches and organizations give food to many families in need. It is truly a blessing to give and to receive! For our new immigrant families they may not know what is turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. In the Asian culture, they do not have turkeys and they do not use ovens. Also, they may not be able to read and/or understand the directions on an instant food box. When giving this abundance of food, it may be helpful for PTA members, neighbors and outreach personal to personally deliver the food and help prepare the new food. If an interpreter is not available, you could model how to cook the items and use the oven...and teach basic English "kitchen vocabulary!" 

Another option is to ask a community leader what is the need for the newly arrived family? A gift card to their favorite supermarket may be best for them to buy the food they like to eat.

I created a Thanksgiving recipe cookbook for the new families. I wrote it in simple English and added pictures. Most parents received a copy at Parent and Teacher Conferences (their children asked to show their parents how to make turkey!)
The parents were very excited about receiving their first Thanksgiving cookbook!

It took me one hour to demonstrate how to cook the food the parent asked me at the Parent and Teacher Conference. While the turkey cooked, she showed me the family pictures. The smell of turkey filled the air! I was happy to share their first Thanksgiving feast in USA of what is turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Helping foreign-born parents with Parent & Teacher Conferences

Do you know a foreign-born neighbor that has a child in elementary school?
Maybe their child goes to school with your child. In their culture, they may
not have parent teacher conferences. Here are some tips that you may help
another parent prepare for the upcoming conferences:

The Conference Format
The typical conference with your child’s
homeroom teacher takes about 15-20 minutes
and provides you with a valuable opportunity:

• To see examples of your child’s work
in reading and mathematics.
• To review grade-level expectations and
your child’s progress.
• To ask questions about specific
concerns or get additional information.
• To find out how you can reinforce
classroom learning at home.

Before the Conference . . .
Review your child’s report card:

• Do you understand the grading system?

• Is your child below, on or above grade
level in reading and mathematics?

• Are there any learning behaviors that
need improvement?

Talk with your child:
• How does your child feel about school?

• How does your child think he/she is
doing in school?

• Is there anything that your child wants
you to ask or tell the teacher?

Do you have particular concerns about
your child:

• How does he/she get along with other

• Is your child working up to his/her

Have there been any major changes at home
or school that might have an impact on your
child’s school work:
• Health concerns?

• Family issues?

• New teacher?

• Separation from friends?

During the Conference . . .
Be an active listener and take notes.
To make the best use of limited conference
time, focus your attention on the areas most
important to your child.
Consider the following topics as possibilities
for discussion with the teacher:

• In which area(s) is your child doing well?

• In which area(s) does he/she need to

• Has your child adjusted well to the
class and the teacher?

• What are some of your child’s special
interests or concerns?

• How can you help your child at home?

• What other resources are available to
help your child?

And yes! You can read to your child if you do not speak English!
Take a picture walk and talk about the pictures!  Make personal you and your child's home language! :-)

~ “If you teach the parents, it helps teach their children.”

                                Laurel Conran WASHPOST 7/2011

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What is Halloween?

What is Halloween?
Halloween is a holiday combining many different traditional harvest festival celebrations with customs more specific to the occasion such as costume wearing, trick-or-treating, pranks, and decorations based on imagery of death and the supernatural (David Emery, Guide). It is celebrated on October 31.

Halloween is watching the Great Pumpkin Patch!
It has been primarily a children's holiday, however, in more recent years Halloween activities such as mask wearing, costume parties, themed decorations, and even trick-or-treating have grown quite popular with adults as well, making Halloween an all-ages celebration.

 What does the name 'Halloween' mean?
The name Halloween (originally spelled Hallowe'en) is a contraction of All Hallows Even, meaning the day before All Hallows Day (better known as All Saints Day), a Catholic holiday commemorating Christian saints and martyrs observed since the early Middle Ages on November 1.

How and when did Halloween originate?
Apparently, the origins of Halloween can be traced back to ancient Ireland and Scotland around the time of Christ. On Oct. 31st, the Celts celebrated the end of summer. This was important because it was when animal herders would move their animals into barns and pens and prepare to ride out the winter. This was also the time of the crop harvests. This annual change of season and lifestyle was marked by a festival called Samhain -- pronounced 'sow-ane' and means 'end of summer.' Sow rhymes with cow.

Around the 5th century, as the Catholic Church developed and moved into the area, instead of adding a new day to celebrate, it took over the Samhain celebration. Nov. 1st became "All Hallows Eve" where all the saints of the Catholic church were honored. A later custom developed where people would go door-to-door on Nov. 2, requesting small cakes in exchange for the promise of saying prayers for some of the dead relatives of each house. This arose out of the religious belief that the dead were in a state of limbo before they went to heaven or hell and that the prayers of the living could influence the outcome.

Pumpkin History
References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was nasalized by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion. American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin." The "pumpkin" is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella.

Pumpkin crafts.
The Jack-O-Lantern (or pumpkin)  apparently comes from Irish folklore about a man named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Once the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk, preventing the devil from coming down. The devil then made a deal with Jack not to allow Jack into hell after Jack died if only Jack would remove the cross from the tree. After Jack died, he couldn't go to hell, and he couldn't go to heaven. He was forced to wander around the earth with a single candle to light his way. The candle was placed in a turnip to keep it burning longer. When the Irish came to America in the 1800's, they adopted the pumpkin instead of the turnip. Along with these traditions, they brought the idea that the black cat was considered by some to be reincarnated spirits who had prophetic abilities.

American Family Traditions
Celebrating our daughter's sweet birthday!
Each family adopts their own family tradition. As for my family we look at this time of year as Harvest Time! We enjoy the harvest of the end of summer. Now we enjoy the fall of apples and pumpkins! We warm up our home with the sweet smells of applesauce, apple and pumpkin pies, candies, breads and hot spiced apple cider! We enjoy taking the pumpkins and gourds to make crafts.  In addition, we give tribute to the saints that sacrificed their lives so we can have a better life today!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Community Partnerships

Community Partnerships
It Takes a Community to Teach our Children
Bridging Cultures, Building Community

In August 2007, our school saw an increase of ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) students from 30 to 70.  This large increase presented both opportunities and challenges.  Namely, how could we quickly recruit community resources and build integrate and/or expand programs could help our students significantly achieve.  I have delineated below our school and ESOL Team’s approach to this challenge. In summary, it was a coordinated team (Community, Families, Teachers, and Programs) effort to help both our old and new students achieve.
Planning and action immediately commenced when it was identified that a statistically significant increased amount of refugee children would be attending our school. The entire community, International Referral Network (FIRN), library, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Baltimore County Community College (BCCC), Howard Community College (HCC) and the interpreters with the new families attended a meeting to receive information concerning refugee status.  This helped us to identify the diverse academic needs of our students.
Learning how to use a fork and spoon.
Shortly thereafter, new students arrived with their parents and interpreters, which required the ESOL Team to update rosters and to take them to their new teachers, helping them order lunches, pairing them up with partners, showing them the bathrooms, finding picture dictionaries, and changing daily schedules to meet the needs of our new incomers.
During our first days, I was paged to the principal’s office.  Fortunately, our principal was meeting with the president of FIRN (Foreign-born Information-Referral Network).  We took this opportunity to help us better focus resources to the task at hand.  Further, we discussed many strategies and tactics as to how we could provide enrichment activities to build oral language skills since the 30 plus students had interrupted schooling and some students had little to no schooling.
The ESOL Team also met with FIRN, county school personal, ESOL counselor, IRC, interpreters and the case manager to learn about the interrupted schooling to begin the planning for the Learning English After School Program (L.E.A.P.). The ESOL team began planning reading and math activities to enrich oral language development.
More specifically, we began with the HCPSS ESOL English Language Proficiency Standards MDK-12 to direct our planning: “With one word-responses or short phrases, and sentences, students will be able to apply critical thinking skills and academic language functions to define math, reading and content vocabulary,” by using phonics and math board games and reading material. And to “Use simple present, and present progressive forms of common. (i.e., to be, to have, and to walk and simple past tense of regular verbs) Use appropriate word order.  (i.e., subject- verb-object when speaking in short sentences and in memorized patterns).
Additionally, we met with the school’s reading, math support and classroom teachers to learn of new and additional resources. We received math and grammar board and card games, math and picture cards, art supplies, manipulatives, and picture books with props.  Since the 3rd-5th graders were not in school for the 2nd grade curriculum objective “My Community,” we took the 2nd grade curriculum to help fill in the learning gap for the students to learn how to use geographic concepts and processes to understand location and its relationship in their community. This helped prepare the 4th and 5th graders with interrupted schooling about geographic concepts, locations and physical features of Maryland as they were learning about Colonial America. We utilized the book, “From Here to There,” by Margery Cuyler, and each week the students added to their hand-crafted illustrated books and learned about their names, streets, town, city, state of Maryland and it’s physical features, country, continent and their universe. 

ESOL Team welcomes new Chin family into the community.
In addition to FIRN training their volunteers, we invited the FIRN volunteers to come to our school before the program began, to review the objectives, the materials and the syllabus, and to ask/answer any questions they may have.  The first day of the program, ESOL held a small orientation for the children with the tutors and administration to explain the objectives of the program and to go over the rules and the consequences if they chose not to follow the rules.
The program ran in two-eight week sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Session one (1) before the Winter break and Session two (2) beginning the first week in February. The 1.5 hour sessions were divided into 3 parts. The first 30 minutes was focused on completing homework, and the last hour was devoted to reading then math activities. The students were divided by grade levels with 5-8 students per two tutors. The PTA (Parent and Teacher Association) provided snacks and it was left up to the tutors when snack was provided and interpreters called parents to arrange rides home.
At the end of each session, school surveys were given to the tutors in order to determine how to better the program for the following session and FIRN surveys were also given to the parents. When the parents met as a group, the interpreter read the questionnaire as the parents answered the questions.  Items learned from these sessions were integrated into L.E.A.P. to enhance it as it progressed forward.
How and what did our team and students accomplish?  In June, the students were tested.  Scores measurably increased on their monthly reading benchmarks and the reading and math quarterly assessments and their LAS (Language Assessment Systems) assessments. 
In summary, our community team collaborated together to ensure that the academic needs of our new students were met in order to improve their scores and integration into our community.  As evidenced by their scores and feedback by their families and teachers, we believe that their first steps into the community were successfully started.  
Celebrating the Chin New Year!
To better understand some of FIRN’s community programs, we have provided expanded information on each of their outreaches:
In 2003, FIRN and the HCPSS entered into a formal educational partnership wherein both parties collaborated to pilot an innovative after-school program targeted at ELL students in the County known as Club L.E.A.P. (Learning English After-school Program).
Expecting continued dramatic increases in ESOL student enrollment, FIRN and HCPSS undertook this program to help these students, many of whom are among Howard County’s academically-at-risk student population because of their language barriers.  It was started in 3 schools with a half a dozen or so volunteers.  Over the past 4 years, this partnership has evolved in both its breadth and depth of service.  Each summer, FIRN, with the help of the members of the HCPSS Partnership Committee, meet with school administrators and other stakeholders to plan that year’s Club L.E.A.P. The HCPSS Partnership Committee is the oversight entity for this partnership.  The members of this committee include HCPSS Offices of International Student, Family International, Student, Family and Community Services., ESOL and World Languages, Hispanic Achievement Liaisons and 21st Century Bridges Community Learning Center. Through the dedication and commitment and recognizing the need to help this under-served ESOL population, this program has seen tremendous growth.  This 2008-2009 academic year, the program is implemented in 11 schools with 52 volunteer tutors, serving 100 ESOL students.
The county clothing drive.
Working with HCPSS, FIRN provides trained, culturally competent volunteer tutors in Club LEAP, offering the ELLs a variety of enrichment activities in a safe school environment to support the goals and objectives of the school system.  Many of FIRN’s volunteers are retired teachers, professionals, multi-cultural and multi-lingual high school and college students, international students and others in the community who feel a special connection to the international community in which we live. 
It takes a community to teach our children!

FIRN is a nonprofit organization in Howard County, Maryland that empowers immigrants, refugees, asylees and other foreign-born individuals by helping them to access community resources and opportunities. Read more:

Community Partnership with a local company and school: