How Guatemalan Students in Omaha Are Breaking Language Barriers - Digital Promise

How Guatemalan Students in Omaha Are Breaking Language Barriers

February 25, 2019 | By

Being the new kid in school is always tough. Making new friends, getting to know new teachers, and learning new hallways can be challenging and scary for any student. But imagine being the new kid in school in a new country that speaks an entirely different language—that can be downright intimidating.

Welcome to R.M. Marrs Magnet Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the past two years, the school has seen an influx of students from Guatemala. Many of these students, whose families left Guatemala because of violence and poverty, were not familiar with English or even Spanish when they arrived in Omaha; they speak the Mayan language Q’anjob’al.

Marrs Magnet Center is one of 100 Verizon Innovative Learning schools (VILs) around the country. Since 2014, the VILs initiative—made possible by a partnership between Digital Promise and Verizon Innovative Learning—has worked to bridge the Digital Learning Gap by equipping every student and teacher at these select middle schools with tablets and up to a four-year data plan.

Breaking Language Barriers is Easier with Technology

Teachers at Marrs are using the new technology not only to help them communicate with their Guatemalan students, but also to help the students learn English and other skills necessary to be successful in the classroom. 

Our students are picking up skills that are helping them understand the social, emotional and academic parts of being middle schoolers. This technology is transforming learning for our students.
Jenni Sherrill
Digital Learning Coach, Marrs Magnet Center

“Our [English language learning], dual language, and entire reading departments are doing a phenomenal job incorporating the iPads in the classroom,” said Jenni Sherrill, digital learning coach at Marrs. “Teachers are using peers who understand both Spanish and Q’anjob’al to explain classroom expectations and activities, and then utilizing our iPads to help students start grasping academic vocabulary through apps like Microsoft Translator and teacher-created materials.”

One science teacher at Marrs has even gone out of her way to find a dictionary that translates Q’anjob’al into English and Spanish. “Students are picking up on the academic language because they are able to see how the dictionary can assist them in finding meaning in the words they are seeing in lessons on their iPads in the classroom,” Sherrill explained.

As the school year has progressed and their skills have improved, the Guatemalan students—initially fairly quiet, only talking to other students who spoke Q’anjob’al—have begun to go out of their comfort zone to talk to other classmates and get involved in discussions and classroom activities. “It’s fun to watch our students become more comfortable in our school environment as they gain confidence,” Sherrill said. “Our students are picking up skills that are helping them understand the social, emotional and academic parts of being middle schoolers. This technology is transforming learning for our students.”

All students benefit from technology in the classroom

Sherrill is quick to point out that Marrs’ Guatemalan students are not the only ones who benefit from the VILs iPads. “This program has afforded all of our students the chance to be on an even playing field; the equal access to technology has been a game changer in our building,” she said. “Our teachers work incredibly hard every day to ensure our students get the best education possible and try to set them up to be successful. We look forward to this program being a part of our school culture for years to come!”

If your school or district is interested in becoming a Verizon Innovative Learning school, please fill out the interest form.

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