Mario Arreola, a former standout player on the Mattituck High School soccer team, stood in front of the Board of Education Thursday night and began a presentation by speaking entirely in Spanish.
Noticing the clear lack of understanding on the faces of those in the audience, he switched to English, a language he has only been speaking since he moved to the United States from Guatemala when he was 14 years old.
“This moment that you guys are having right now is the moment I had when I first came here,” he said. “I didn’t know what everyone was saying.”
He and five other Mattituck-Cutchogue High School students each spoke and shared their stories of moving to America knowing no English. They described where they were from — Guatemala, El Salvador and China — what they’ve learned at Mattituck and their goals for the future as they continue in the district’s pilot program for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) and English as a New Language (ENL).
The program, which began this semester, is modeled after the ENL and Bilingual programs offered at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. The nine SIFE students enrolled at Mattituck have morning classes that are “more language intensive” and afternoon classes that work on skill application, David Smith, the high school assistant principal, said. Additionally, the school has between 30 to 40 ENL students.
He said the program began because faculty noticed that some ENL students entering the district were struggling in classes. For example, a sophomore who spoke no English was being placed in a 10th grade biology class. The student couldn’t handle the work with just a minimal knowledge of the English language. The student’s reading level equaled that of a fifth grader.
Shawn Petretti, the high school principal, explained that since the program is new, the faculty is still trying to get a feel for what the students already know, describing it as a “fluid program.” He explained that one teacher decided to use a computer program to teach the students about health, only to learn that the SIFE students didn’t know how to operate a computer. Now, students are being taught how to log in, search the Internet and more in a computer literacy course.
“We’re really trying to figure out how to best serve them,” he said. “Anything we’re doing now is better than what we were doing … we have a lot of teachers that are taking some chances, going outside the box to find new things and mixing up their programs and I can’t thank them enough for their patience as we’re trying to do this.”
Superintendent Anne Smith said that she has met with staff from the neighboring Southold and Greenport school districts, including their shared superintendent David Gamberg, and professionals in the ENL field so that they could all share stories, plan for the future and discuss what they have found works and doesn’t work for the students.
Victor Regalado, a current Mattituck student who moved to America from El Salvador, said he dreams of sharing what he learned at the school with others.
“My dream … is to be a teacher of ENL here in this school,” he said.
Photo Caption: Mario Arreola speaking at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)