Expanding communication skills

Prairie Lakes AEA, local schools support ELL students

All students should have the ability to express their feelings, wants, and needs. However, some students aren’t able to speak clearly enough for everyone to understand them, while others may not be able to speak at all.

Students with significant disabilities have multiple complex learning needs that require extensive, repeated, individualized instruction and support. One of the methods used to help these students learn, core vocabulary books are used to help students learn the 40 words used most often to express and communicate.

A collaboration between Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency and local schools is designed to expand this support of students with limited or no communication skills, who come from a Spanish-speaking home.

Tiffanie Zaugg, assistive technology coordinator from Prairie Lakes AEA, coordinates with teachers in the 40 school districts that comprise the Prairie Lakes AEA region to help students have the supports needed to help them learn. She is leading the translation of the core vocabulary books.

“There are students with significant disabilities that have limited or no communication that come from a Spanish-speaking home,” Zaugg said. “Our current practice is to emerge our students in the English language and not instruct using Spanish. For our students with significant disabilities that will return to their Spanish-speaking homes after graduation, it was more appropriate to instruct them in Spanish.”

Prairie Lakes AEA team members Kris Manteufel and Tammy McKimmey support special education students and teachers in the Humboldt Community School District. Manteufel also works with Pocahontas Area and reached out to Raul Molina, high school Spanish teacher at Pocahontas Area High School, to see if he had students who would be able to translate these core vocabulary books from English into Spanish. Molina connected with senior Eloise Schumacher and freshman Bessy Orddonez.

“I selected Eloise and Bessy for this project because they speak Spanish and have been bilingual since birth,” Molina said. “Both received credit for the project as it was part of the classwork.”

Eloise also had experience as last year, she worked with a third grader at PAC who moved into the district from Honduras. They would make games, read, play board games, and other fun activities to help him practice his skills in English.

“I worked with him on his English because he wasn’t able to communicate with teachers,” Eloise said. “It was super exciting and rewarding, and it helped me realize that I want a career as a foreign language interpreter.”

Once the students were selected, the translation process began. The books are between 9-12 pages in length, with 1-2 sentences and a picture on each page. The two students divided up the task and started the translation process around Christmas.

“It was hard in the beginning because of the program that we had to use,” Eloise said.

The books are created using a program called Lumin. They called upon Susan Oehlertz, PAC Technology Integration Specialist for assistance.

The girls finished the project in early May and returned the translated books to Zaugg.

“It was like when I started speaking English and helped reinforce my translation,” Bessy said.

These books will be used at Humboldt High School, Webster City High School, and other schools across Iowa. An added bonus is that these books can also be sent home and parents can utilize the English and Spanish version of the book.

“It’s a rewarding feeling knowing it will be used to help kids across the AEA,” Bessy said.