Blades Elementary School lauded for work

English language learners at Blades Elementary School are getting some extra help in la biblioteca.

Blades’ Latino Family Literacy Project was recently recognized by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce as a 2019 Superstar in Education.

Blades Elementary serves 452 students. About 30 percent do not speak English at home, primarily speaking Spanish. The project helps Spanish-speaking families develop family reading routines by providing bilingual texts, developing school-parent connections and building community among Latino families.

“It’s really to promote literacy in the house,” said school principal Krissy Jennette. “By giving them the opportunity to read to their child in their native language and establishing a reading routine in their home, whether it’s in English or Spanish, we promote the importance of that reading routine.”

Kelly Hageman, Seaford School District Supervisor of Instruction, started researching ways to engage bilingual families in 2014 and discovered the literacy project.

“At Blades Elementary, they really took that and ran with it. They implemented it and kind of made it their own,” Hageman said.

Jennette and Blades’ sole English language learner teacher, Lyndsey Gerstle, worked together to advertise the program to the community.

“I think at our first night we had one family,” Jennette said.

The program runs for 10 weeks each spring, for an hour or two every Thursday night. The last one drew seven families.

“We try to target families with more than one child,” Jennette said. The more siblings involved, the more children benefit.

Each evening starts with families meeting for food and socializing. Then, the kids get a supervised play date while the parents meet with Gerstle and a Spanish translator to discuss the week’s program. Spanish immersion teachers take turns as translators.

Parents are given a book that shares stories in English and Spanish to read to their children at home. They’re also given a “family album” in which they complete projects tied to the book that strengthens their sense of family.

In four years the school has seen a tangible improvement progress toward English language proficiency, measured by a statewide test. In 2018, Blades’ English learners exceeded expectations. Over 90 percent of them met or surpassed the benchmark.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from the parents,” Hageman said. “They really enjoy the program because they like the connections they make with the staff and they feel more comfortable in the school.”