Students Teaching Students at Montgomery Elementary’s Cultural Club – The Knight Crier
Students generally begin their studies of Spanish, French or German in the seventh or eighth grade. At Montgomery Elementary School, fifth and sixth graders involved in the culture club are exposed to different languages and cultures earlier than most.
Ms. Donna Chevoor, a fifth-grade teacher at Montgomery, came up with the idea of giving young children a cultural experience that isn’t always available at their age.
“I was talking to another ESL teacher in the district and she had started a club similar to this one. I was really interested so I decided to do one in Montgomery,” Chevoor explained. “I tweaked it a bit to fit the way I wanted the program to work…and that’s how it all started.”
Introducing young students to the wonders of different languages can benefit them in the long run. Chevoor understands this and does his best to expose his children to what they can really learn.
“I do it for fifth and sixth grade because I know from middle school there are so many different clubs and they start getting introduced to languages so I kind of wanted to get my feet wet. “, said Chevoor. “Also, I wanted to kind of branch out and point out to them that there’s a bigger world out there than Lansdale, and a lot of the things that they perceive aren’t really the truth.”
Also, I wanted to kind of branch out and point out to them that there’s a bigger world out there than Lansdale, and a lot of the things they perceive aren’t really the truth.
— Ms. Donna Chevoor, teacher at Montgomery Elementary School
Chevoor wanted to expand the Cultural Club by enlisting the help of high school language teachers. In this particular case, she collaborated with Ms. Brittany Atkiss, Spanish teacher at North Penn, to help teach children to learn more about Spanish cultures.
“[Mrs. Chevoor] reached out to me, asking if Spanish students could come to his cultural club at some point. We signed up for two dates; the first in January and we are going back in May,” Atkiss explained.
Each month, the cultural club focuses on a new subject to discover. In January, they represented parts of Columbia.
“We had an opening lesson about where in the world they thought Columbia was. Then we looked at the animals you might see in Colombia, the food that might be in Colombia, and the dancing,” Atkiss explained.
They didn’t stop there. Montgomery students also explored a variety of other topics.
“One group was responsible for teaching body parts, the other was responsible for teaching colors, days of the week and months… The Montgomery children rotated between the groups,” said Atkiss.
Using a more interactive and relevant approach to teaching young children about Spanish-speaking countries ultimately helps present information more effectively. Sometimes it even forces teachers to step back and let others do the work. North Penn students from Spain filled those shoes and became the teachers for the day.
“[The children] were definitely more relaxed. If I had tried to get them to do the worksheets, it would have been perceived differently for juniors and seniors to do it with them. They were much more open to work… You could see the kids were having so much fun,” Atkiss said. “Being the opposite, almost having to be a teacher, was an eye-opening experience for [the Spanish students] too. They did great.
Spanish 4 students Laila Rihawi and Jordan Lawrence felt that feeling while teaching students at Montgomery. They directly felt the atmosphere change with them working with the children rather than with a teacher.
“It felt like we were really having fun. It kind of becomes the dynamic where it’s like a little brother and an older brother, and I know if it was a teacher, they’d probably be bored,” Rihawi
“Being taught by someone you can actually talk to is not so much teacher-directed, ie teaching, teaching, it’s more of a guide along some kind of experience,” Lawrence added. “I would say being able to help the kids and being someone they can actually talk to… I feel like that has helped them.”
When it comes to relevant ways to teach young students, using a topic that piques their interest can also be effective. In this case, the AP students used the popular children’s film, Encanto.
I think they left with a positive experience of a new culture. I think they really enjoyed working with the high school kids; you could see the primary school kids had giant smiles on their faces and they were admiring the older students”
— Ms. Brittany Atkiss – Spanish teacher at ENSP
“To raise awareness of the culture surrounding the film (Encanto) and the people they see in the film, hopefully gives them a better understanding of the world in general,” Atkiss explained. “I think they left with a positive experience of a new culture. I think they really enjoyed working with the high school kids; you could see the elementary school kids had giant smiles on their faces and they were staring at the older students. It was beautiful to see.”
Having different age groups from across the district come together to tackle a project really signifies the kind of bonds that can be made at North Penn and how much of a unit we have become. Atkiss and his Spanish students recognized this during their work.
“It’s great for North Penn because it brings us all together… Just kind of making that connection so we’re a unified front rather than all the different buildings, that’s good,” Atkiss explained.
“I think that’s really cool. North Penn is a very community neighborhood, and having older kids with younger kids and teaching them, it shows how involved North Penn is and how it’s not entirely teacher-run, but the students do really a lot,” Rihawi added.
Working with older children usually has a lasting impact on younger generations. On the other hand, older students are generally not expected to come away with more than a fun experience. Having the opportunity to work with the Montgomery students, however, left a good feeling resonating with Lawrence.
“I think it definitely had an impact on me because I was interested in education before, and it pushed it forward for me… Being able to do that in a classroom in front of kids, it put in perspective for me that it’s something I could possibly do,” Lawrence remarked.
Besides being a teacher and mentor for the day, it seemed to mean a little more than that to the members of the Cultural Club.
As a kid you obviously look up to someone and want to be a role model for them… I think it’s really cool to be able to do this for younger kids and I would strongly advise more people to get involved s they can.
— Jordan Lawrence, ENSP student
“As a kid you obviously look up to someone and want to be a role model for them… I think it’s really cool to be able to do this for younger people and I would strongly advise more people to get involved if they can,” concluded Laurent.
The Spanish students haven’t finished yet; they will return to Montgomery in May for a Cinco de Mayo-themed lesson that also focuses on culture in Mexico.
“I hope this is a program that we can develop and foster with different elementary schools in the district,” Atkiss concluded.