Teachers learn "street talk" to correct language used in classroom

Reported by Casey Roman – bio |email
Posted by Lauren Thomson - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Teachers at Forest Hills Elementary are learning "street talk," or how kids communicate, so that they can correct the slang that students bring into school. They say teachers need to have an understanding and a plan.

At Forest Hills Elementary in Wilmington, where every student works with their own set of words, learning the lingo is a plan that seems to be working.

"It's just diverse in every aspect - from the extremely wealthy to the homeless," says Forest Hills Elementary Teacher of the Year Kim Ciamillo, who teaches fourth and fifth graders.

Diversity is the reason Forest Hills calls itself a global school and the reason the teachers are getting schooled in "street speak" spoken by children of different backgrounds.

"We're trying to get our staff, which is not African-American largely, to try to get them to understand that it's a different way of communicating," says Principal Michael Cobb. "When students say something, don't get offended. Try to understand and go beyond that."

"It's important for me to know their language but its not important, necessarily, for me to let them use it in the classroom," says Ciamillo.

Teachers say the lessons in lingo and culture have given them new patience and perspective when they head back to the classroom.

"A student might say to me, 'I ain't got no pencil today,'" says Ciamillo. "Who are you asking for a pencil? 'Mrs. Ciamillo, may I please borrow a pencil?' Here you go!"

These teachers aren't learning how to use slang. They're learning a responsible way to correct it in class.

"If you cannot relate to them, you cannot make an impact on their education," says Ciamillo.

Making an impact means understanding the core of the students culture and their way of communicating.

The idea for the teacher's lessons started after the school got their AYP scores back and saw some groups were falling behind.

Something wasn't working and they decided the problem was language and communication. At Forest Hills Elementary 61 percent of students are on reduced lunch, a subsidized lunch program, 43 percent of students are white and 44 percent are African-American.

In July of 2009, the school received their Adequate Yearly Progress and A.B.C., a state review program, scores. Students in the "African American" and "reduced lunch" classifications were not performing at a satisfactory level.

"We needed to do something different because what we were doing was not working well enough," says Cobb.

That's when they decided to incorporate teacher lessons on language and culture.

Most teachers at the school are white women, like many schools across the state. The dramatic difference in ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds between the staff and the students created a gap in cultural understanding.

Since the teachers have been receiving lessons in student lingo and home culture, early standardized testing scores have increased and discipline reports have gone down.

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