ESL teacher reflects on 10 years in Southold schools

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold English as a Second Language teacher John Myers (center) with ESL students (from left) Jonathan Escobar, 17; Muhammet Ilgin, 17; Southold graduate Jorge Sandoval, 22, Tatiana Amador, 14; and Kevin Escobar, 16.

Four years ago, when Turkish immigrant John Ilgin enrolled for eighth grade in the Southold School District, he didn’t speak English fluently.

Not only that, but his English as a Second Language teacher, John Myers, didn’t speak Turkish.

“I don’t know how he taught me English,” Mr. Ilgin said. “I just got accepted into my first-choice school, St. John’s, and it’s all because of Mr. Myers.”

Mr. Ilgin joined dozens of community members in praising the district’s ESL program at last Wednesday’s regular Board of Education meeting, where Mr. Myers gave a presentation.

When Mr. Myers was hired by the district 10 years ago, there were only two ESL students. Since then, the district has hired another ESL teacher, Karen Quinones, to work in the elementary school to handle swelling enrollment. Currently, over 50 students are enrolled the ESL program, Mr. Myers said.

Immigrants, mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador, are moving into the district because Southold’s rural character reminds them of their home countries and the reputation of the school’s ESL program has made it desirable, he said. Of the 145 students who have taken the ESL course, only five have dropped out of school, Mr. Myers said.

“Connections are established and, little by little, families are reunited here,” he said. “My goal is to be able to have these kids leave this building with a diploma in hand.”

Although dozens of parents and students praised the district’s ESL program, one parent criticized the school board for not hiring an additional ESL teacher.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Xavier Amador, a psychologist and parent of an ESL student, said he believes the district needs to hire another ESL teacher to ensure that each student receives enough individual instruction in a mixed class comprising beginner, intermediate and advanced students.

“I’m very pleased with the initial response from the superintendent and the school board,” Dr. Amador said after the meeting. “It’s the follow-through I’m concerned about.”

Another parent, a Salvadoran immigrant whose children are enrolled in the district’s ESL program, said he would like to help his children with their homework, but struggles with English himself.

Superintendent David Gamberg said the district is in the process of hiring an additional ESL teacher and is working to develop a shared service agreement with Greenport and Mattituck schools to provide ESL workshops for parents.

As the district continues to expand its ESL program, Mr. Myers said he’s looking forward to creating lifelong friendships.

“Every student that I’ve taught is still in my life,” he said.

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