Laurel Middle School students read in English to children from Thailand

By Mike McClure

Students in Dr. Rebecca Wests seventh grade English Language Arts honors class is getting to know third graders from Bangkok, Thailand without leaving the classroom. In the process, the Laurel students are teaching their young counterparts how to read fluently in English while learning about another culture.

This is kind of like a modern day pen pal story, said West. Its a big deal to us and were really excited.

The Laurel Middle School class is involved in the International Reading Buddies program with a class in Bangkok which is taught by Delaware native Heather Schwalm. Schwalms students speak a mix of other languages, but English is their second language.

The students in Wests class are modeling good reading fluency by reading books to the students from Thailand via video. The process started with the two groups sending introduction videos to each other. The Laurel class then broke into teams of eight to read The Polar Express. Schwalm is incorporating the readings into her lessons.

Were helping them read, but were learning about them too. Overall its a learning experience for everyone, said Laurel student Caroline Ricketts.

It gives us a chance to help other kids and see them grow and develop throughout the year, student Carlie Venables said.

Not only do the Laurel students get a chance to help the students from Thailand read in English, they also have an opportunity to learn about their culture.

We get to learn more about them and their culture. Its an honor to learn more about them, said Mirta Angel-Gabriel.

Its neat because we get to learn stuff about them and what its like to live there, Venables said.

In preparation for the program, the Laurel students, who are strong readers, learned what it meant to be fluent. According to West, the buddy program is helping to build her students confidence as readers and allows them to develop leadership skills. The children from Thailand, who were shy at first, also learn social skills.

I definitely see positive changes for both sides of the buddy program. Its very exciting, said West.

The two classes are also exchanging gifts representing their area and cultures. The Laurel students are sending a variety of gifts centering around Laurel, Delaware, and Christmas. The students from Thailand are also sending a package representing Bangkok.

Well have something to open when we get back from break, West added.

The gift exchange and videos help transport the Laurel students to a different part of the world.

Its kind of like seeing these people across the world and saying I could go there and see what its like and probably they feel the same way, said Ricketts.

Coming from a small town, not everyone realizes there is more out there to learn from. To have these opportunities is really something special, West said.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.