A Place to Explore as a Family
This interview was conducted in early March 2020 before the closure of Kansas schools due to COVID-19. As a result, the Spring 2020 Family Language Academies that are highlighted in this story are postponed until in-person school resumes.
Supporting Technology, Educators, and Parents for Upward Progress (STEP UP) is a federal grant program that is a partnership between the University of Kansas Center for Educational Opportunity Programs and the Kansas City, Kansas English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)/Migrant Services Department. The program promotes ESOL learning among different stakeholders across the district.
Devon Tschumakow works as an ESOL Instructional Coach for pre-kindergarten through 5th grade in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS). Before serving as an ESOL Instructional Coach, she worked as an instructor in the KCKPS Intensive Language Centers for elementary schools with students who have recently arrived in the United States with their families; bringing with them innumerable cultures and language backgrounds. Devon has a great passion for these students and families, and when an opportunity with STEP UP presented itself, she collaborated.
Devon works directly with an important aspect of the program, the Saturday Family Language Academy. Devon explains that the Saturday Family Language Academy, which takes place on Saturday mornings throughout the spring semester, is “a safe place to practice new skills”. While the district’s ESOL instruction during the school week focuses primarily on the students, the Saturday Family Language Academy welcomes students and anyone they call family. This includes siblings who are not of age to attend elementary school as well as parents, grandparents, and extended family. Devon stressed that everyone is welcome and that it is a “place to explore as a family”.
Before the 2018–19 school year, Devon had a hand in developing the curriculum, which centers around a common theme. This year’s theme prepares students and families for a field trip to City Market at the end of the semester. “We were trying to think of something that would be useful and relevant,” she explained. The different age groups (from her preschool-aged class through adults) learn English vocabulary with a connection to going to the market such as food, money, and transportation.
As a teacher of the very youngest children, Devon believes in the importance of play-based learning, therefore the preschool curriculum also includes dress-up time as well as making crafts to “sell” to the adults in a “mock market” prior to the actual trip. Devon is looking forward to the language skills where children and their families can develop as they participate. Devon believes Saturday Family Language Academy provides more than just language skills it “is very beneficial to our families … it gives them an opportunity to connect with the district and can help make them feel comfortable in a new place.”