Elizabeth Price

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Elizabeth Price, the principal of South Graham Elementary School, met with Olivia Joyner to discuss the programs available at the school for students who come to the school speaking English as a second language, or not at all. South Graham, in an effort to promote global consciousness, inclusivity, and the value of being able to speak multiple languages, is a school that offers not only ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, but also a dual-language-immersion program, and is credited as a Global Passport School. Principal Price hopes that students will graduate from the school having not only a deeper understanding of world cultures, but additionally a realization of the benefits of being able to speak more than one language. She recognizes that many individuals who live in North Carolina, and the United States speak Spanish, and therefore believes being able to understand and speak the language is a useful tool.



Olivia [00:00:00] This is Olivia Joyner here with Principal Elizabeth Price of South Graham Elementary School on April 11th at 3:05pm. Principal Price, can I confirm that I have your consent to record and upload this interview?

Elizabeth Price: Yes

Olivia [00:00:18] Perfect, thank you. So how long have you worked here at this elementary school?
Elizabeth Price: This is my tenth year. I’m finishing out my tenth year here.

Olivia [00:00:24] And what- Where were you working before this?

Elizabeth Price: In Asheboro, North Carolina. I was a principal of an elementary school there for three years.

Olivia [00:00:33] That’s so neat. Have you always lived in North Carolina?
Elizabeth Price: Yes.
Olivia: [00:00:36] Me too. I’m just curious as to what programs South Graham offers for students who come to the school, or move to the area, and speak English as a second language or maybe don’t know any English.

Elizabeth Price: We offer- obviously we offer the English as a Second Language [ESL] for English-language-learner support. We have three full-time ESL teachers who work with our students. I pay for one of those out of Title I. We would only have, I think, two and a half, but I felt like we really needy three. Also what we’ve offered is a dual language, Spanish immersion program, where half of the kids are English-speaking natives, and the other half are Spanish-speaking- Spanish speakers. And so what they do is, they do one day in Spanish and one day in English, and they learn the same curriculum as a traditional classroom, but they are able to learn it in both languages.

Olivia [00:01:48] And does that program last the entire year?
Elizabeth Price: Yes, it’s kindergarten through sixth- through fifth grade.
Olivia: Oh wow.
Elizabeth Price: We actually sent our first group to middle school this year.

Olivia [00:01:58] And every day they switch off languages? It’s the same material?
Elizabeth Price: Mhmm.

Olivia [00:02:03] So they’re in the classroom together?
Elizabeth Price: We have two different classrooms.
Olivia: So while one class is learning English, one is learning Spanish?
Elizabeth Price: Mhmm.
Olivia: That is very neat.
Elizabeth Price: Yes, and through that we’ve been able to work on our ELL’s, not only on their English, but also it helps them to keep their native language, and make them literate in their native language, which we have found has not necessarily been the case with students who are in our traditional classroom.

Olivia [00:02:38] How many students are participating in this program?
Elizabeth Price: The max would be forty-eight per grade level: twenty-four in each class. The thing about it is that we are a very transient school, so if they [the students in the dual language program] do leave us in third, fourth, fifth grade, we don’t have anybody we can put back in those classrooms. So those classes tend to be much smaller in the upper grades. Now, kindergarten, first, and second- they’re pretty large.

Olivia [00:03:14] Is this a program that families apply for or are they randomly selected?
Elizabeth Price: Yes, they do apply for them. If there is the need for a waiting list, then they’re randomly selected, but because we offer forty-eight spots, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to have everyone that wants to be in it, to be in it.

Olivia [00:03:36] That’s really great. What are kind of the demographics of this area? I’m unfamiliar with Graham County.
Elizabeth Price: We... South Graham is the most diverse elementary school in the district, as far as- we’ve got- we’re about 35% Caucasian, 35% Hispanic, about 20% African American- except that may be higher now because we’ve had a lot of African American students to enroll. We have Asian, we have multi [ethnic], we have- I mean- we’re just a very diverse school, and you will see that in the area of Graham anyway.

Olivia [00:04:23] Is that something that attracted you to this area?
Elizabeth Price: Yes, I would say so. When I interviewed for this job, I was looking for something closer to where my parents live, and this was just a natural fit for me, because I taught Spanish. That’s what my teaching degree is in- in Spanish.

Olivia [00:04:47] So Spanish- You intended throughout college to be able to teach that?
Elizabeth Price: To teach Spanish, yes.

Olivia [00:04:56] Did you have any experience with that before- before becoming a teacher Did you do any sort of volunteer work or help out with local organizations?
Elizabeth Price: Not really. I’ve been out of school for so long, that it really- the way they did student-teaching was so separate than- now a days when anybody goes into the field of education, you’re pretty much put into a classroom your first semester. That’s not the way it was when I was in school. You pretty much didn’t get into the classroom until your last year. So I really didn’t have that much opportunity to work in classrooms and volunteer my time.

Olivia [00:05:41] What do you think is the value of students learning a second language from such an early age?
Elizabeth Price [00:05:48] Obviously, I mean- my daughter has gone through the Spanish-immersion program at Elon Elementary. She’s in middle school now. You [students] are setting yourself up with a wonderful tool that will only aid your success later on in life. But I think besides that, and that’s pretty much the answer that everybody gives you, but I think the biggest thing is you also learn empathy. You learn how to be leaders. You learn how to be followers. Especially here, because my ESL students don’t have very many opportunities to feel like they are the leaders, especially if their English is very- is not as proficient as what you would have hoped. And so in kindergarten, or you know, whenever they first come here, they become very reliant on English-speaking students. But what I’ve noticed here, that I really just- I just love it- is the fact that when they’re [native Spanish-speaking students] in their Spanish class, the English kids are the ones that are needing to be reliant on the Spanish-speaking kids. And that is very powerful, I feel, because it’s almost like it puts them [all students] on an even scale. And I think in so many ways, our kids, and when I say our kids, the kids who speak English who are native to North Carolina and the United States, and with the current political climate the way that it is, they [Spanish-speakers] have always kind of felt like they were less-than, but in this case they’re feeling like ‘okay I’m just as good as they are.’ And that to me is probably the most powerful thing that we can give our kids.

Olivia [00:07:47] If a student starts off, say in a Kindergarten ESL class, how long would it generally take students to learn English at a level where they can be in classes with native English-speaking students?
Elizabeth Price: They are in classes with native English-speaking students, because our ESL program is a pull-out program. So they’ll go out for thirty minutes a day.
Olivia: Okay.
Elizabeth Price [00:08:20] Research says it takes between five and seven years for students to be able to be proficient in the academic language, and two years in more of the pragmatics- the social language. It really depends on the student, as far as our exiting of kids from ESL services. We have found that those kids that are in the Spanish-immersion program are exiting at a much faster rate than those who are in the traditional program, where they’re only immersed in English. So that part- I think we only have one student now in fifth grade who is still receiving ESL services, and she is in the Spanish immersion program. So the rest of them, they get out pretty quickly.

Olivia [00:09:15] Is that something that parents apply for as well, or when a student starts off in a classroom in say Kindergarten, the teachers assess their language abilities?
Elizabeth Price [00:09:25] We are required by law: anytime a parent puts on the Home Language Survey, anytime the parents puts anything other than ‘English’ down, then they are required to be tested. Unless the parent writes a note saying ‘I do not want my child to be tested. I do not want my child to receive services.’ So that’s a federal law, because we had a student who just moved, but he was Native American and he was receiving ESL services because his parents put down his native language as Navajo. So I thought that was really interesting. Any language besides English, if it’s mentioned, they are to be tested.

Olivia [00:10:15] But Spanish is the predominant second language?
Elizabeth Price: Mhmm. And we do have some Asian students who receive services, but --
Olivia: So are the classrooms further divided by the language?
Elizabeth Price: Not divided by the language. Divided by their language proficiency. So, you know, we try to put kids in classrooms with similar language proficiencies, but it doesn’t always work that way. Because I may have one ESL teacher- in fact I think all three ESL teachers work with Kindergarten, and they just pull them out based on their language ability.

Olivia [00:10:58] Are there any programs or services offered for the parents of these students, if they would like to learn English as well?
Elizabeth Price: Not here. Obviously they can go to ACC.
Olivia: What is ACC?
Elizabeth Price: Alamance Community College.
Olivia: Okay.
Elizabeth Price: They offer English classes there. We’ve never attempted to try something like that here--
Olivia [00:11:25] Is it something that you just believe would require a lot of work and there just aren’t enough resources or just something you don’t believe is necessary, since--?
Elizabeth Price: Oh it’s necessary. It would be finding the resources, as far as, you know, you’d want to provide child care, you would want to provide food, there- you just want to make it as nice as can be. However, if you don’t have the people to help, it makes it a little more difficult.

Olivia [00:11:56] Right. Are there translators available at the school if a parent calls the school, or comes into the school, with a concern about their children’s grades?
Elizabeth Price: We have a full time translator who’s from Cuba, and then my social worker speaks Spanish. I speak Spanish. We have a Spanish- you know we have a Spanish teacher at every grade level. One of my ESL teachers speaks Spanish. So we have a lot of resources as far as the ability to translate if a parent- because we want parents to feel welcome when they come into the school.

Olivia [00:12:39] And you all have a program- you’re a Global Passport School- would you mind explaining what that means?
Elizabeth Price: Yeah. What it is- it’s an extension of our language-immersion program. It is- It kind of brings the whole school together with one focus. Each grade level has a specific content that they integrate into their curriculum. So Kindergarten is Oceania, and then first grade is Asia, second grade is South America, third grade is Africa, fourth grade is Europe, and fifth grade is North America. And so, they [all students] have to complete- the teacher’s have to complete four modules each year. And then they have to do what is called a Capstone Project in order to get a global designation on their teaching license, to make themselves more marketable. It really- the goal of the program is to make students globally aware. So therefore, by the time they get- if they’ve been here Kindergarten through fifth grade, then they have literally- or not literally- figuratively travelled the world. It’s always a work in progress trying to figure it out- it’s only our second year being one. We want to make sure that the curriculum is in place prior to making the school look and feel global. That’s kind of my take on it. I want to see it through what they’re doing in the classroom. Some of the other schools that are ‘global’ already, they started with ‘alright, let’s have the school look and feel like it’s global.’ But we’ve had lots of different projects that the kids have worked on. You know, third grade- they made African flags, and then they worked on Aryan perimeter by looking at the triangles in some of their flags or the rectangles. They’ve also read African legends, and used those in order to teach the different reading content standards. One of my fifth grade teachers, she does ‘field trip Fridays,’ where she announces a country, and the kids are pretty much let loose and they go and they research that country, and they each bring a particular fact, and she creates this poster of everything that the kids found about that country. So they’ve had a good time with that. And then this past Thursday, we had a global schools’ tasting- a global tasting party, where students from the local technical school- career and technical center for ABSS, they catered the global tasting, and they created one to two dishes per continent that the kids could come in and try. And the kids really liked that- really liked it a lot.

Olivia [00:16:06] Have you seen, with the Global Passport Program, any students that maybe are from the area that they’re studying kind of step forward and help lead those projects or maybe explain something about- something they remembered or an experience they had?
Elizabeth Price: No, I don’t think so. Last year we did- we always do a big Splash performance right before our first intersession in September. And last year the fifth graders- they all represented the country that their relatives came from, because we were doing ‘Spanish is Spoken Here,’ talking about how Spanish is spoken on every single continent. So they brought in their own heritage with that, but typically no. It’s pretty much teacher-directed.

Olivia [00:17:04] What other schools have a similar program? Are there any in this area?
Elizabeth Price: Oh yeah: Alexander Wilson [Elementary School], E.M. Yoder [Elementary School], Elon [Elementary School], Eastlawn [Elementary School], and Smith [Elementary School].
Olivia: I remember doing a similar program- I went to Joyner Elementary, which is Spanish-immersion in Raleigh. And we focused more on Central and South American countries, but we would make the flags in art class, and perform a dance, and I always thought that was very interesting.
Olivia [00:17:38] And this should have been one of my first questions, but is Spanish a requirement for students, at this school, to take every year?
Elizabeth Price: No.

Olivia [00:17:45] So there’s a Spanish teacher for each grade, but the classes are optional?
Elizabeth Price: Well the Spanish teachers teach our Spanish-immersion program.
Olivia: Oh, okay.
Elizabeth Price: Yeah.

Olivia [00:17:55] So a Spanish class would serve as --
Elizabeth Price: They just go to-- she’s a licensed regular Kinder- Elementary teacher. She just does it all in Spanish. So, there’s very few schools left that have- because that’s what I used to teach- it’s like a special. Spanish is a special. Very very few schools have that left. So, you know, I know my staff would be very interested in having that if we could do that, but I think we have other pressing needs that we need to look at first.

Olivia [00:18:31] And for any- do you all have a option on the website to share the same material in Spanish? Is it a bilingual website for the school?
Elizabeth Price: No. I don’t think so.
Olivia: It is not? Okay. Let’s see … That may be all of the questions that I have for you. Is there anything else that you’d like to share or expand on?
Elizabeth Price: I don’t think so. I mean, it’s- that’s one of the reasons why I just really appreciate this area, this community, this school. It’s a real good- it’s just the diversity, and the ability for kids to look past the differences and celebrate those differences- that just is very special to me.

Olivia [00:19:36] I actually was curious- for students who come here speaking Spanish, or have recently moved to the United States, do you know- are there any areas in particular that they come from? Have you seen --
Elizabeth Price: It’s mainly Mexico. And it’s mainly in the- let me think--
Olivia: I know Alamance County has a significant population of people from the state of Guanajuato.
Elizabeth Price: Yeah, maybe that’s it. It’s where the- it’s very rural. So maybe the- for some reason I can’t- this has left my mind. Because I know we’ve had some people from Michoacán. But primarily from rural Mexico, the indigenous Indians, is what we’ve seen.
Olivia: Interesting.
Elizabeth Price: Now here lately, you know- we have had kids who have lived here their whole lives coming in, but they’ll come in speaking no English, because they’ve just been with mom, or dad, or babysitter. And so they only know Spanish. But then here lately, the kids that we’ve had have been more from Central America I think, Honduras, Guatemala- you know, places like that have been the most recent migrations. But the predominant number of them came from Mexico.

Olivia [00:21:15] Have you seen the community evolve in your ten years here? Has there been maybe more migration which has led to more Spanish-speaking services around or restaurants, or families in the school, or less?
Elizabeth Price: I think we’ve seen less actually. I mean especially, you know when, the local sheriff was involved with I.C.E. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and everything. More and more families were leaving.
Olivia: Leaving the area in general?
Elizabeth Price: Mhmm. Yeah. So right now, you know with the political climate the way that it is, I’m expecting more to leave. And I think, you know, I think they’ll go back to Mexico, is what I think they’ll do, but we shall wait and see.
Olivia: Well that’s all I have for you, thank you so much for meeting with me.
Elizabeth Price: No problem!