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ELL students finding their niche in school

Crystal Devore, left, helps Ifrah Dahir, 17, make the final changes to her report on the state of North Carolina before Dahir presents the report Monday to her class at Willmar Senior High School. Devore teaches the English Language Learner I class at the school and has quickly become a favorite among the district's Somali students. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

When the announcement came Monday morning that school would be closing early because of snow, cheers echoed from classrooms all over Willmar Senior High. But there were no cheers from Faraah Mire, 17. She has a lot of learn, she said, and "I would rather stay at school."

Faraah, who is new to the United States, said she likes school and enjoys learning about the different states and cultures of America.

Faraah is a student in Crystal Devore's English Language Learner I class at Willmar Senior High School.

Devore's students have been learning American history this month, one state at a time.

Each student writes a simple report about a state and then delivers an oral report, written in the form of a short book, to the entire class. They are working through the country region by region.

This week, among other things, they learned these facts:

- North Dakota's state flower is the wild prairie rose.

- Louisiana's state flower is the magnolia, and at one time black people were slaves there.

- South Dakota is known for Mount Rushmore.

- Maine is right next to Canada.

There was a little extra credit -- a great big smile from the teacher -- when a student knew that Devore's husband was born in North Dakota.

Some of the students have been in America just a few months; others have been here longer and continue to work on their English skills.

Nimo Mohamud, 19, has faced some added challenges. The hard-of-hearing young woman has learned two new languages in the two years she's been in Willmar.

Along with learning English, Nimo has been learning American Sign Language. She knew a little sign language before, she said through an interpreter, but she has learned much more since coming to Willmar.

"I'm really learning a lot going to school here," she said. "I like the people a lot."

The students have their own reasons for working hard to learn English.

For brothers Abdi Khadar Abdi, 18, and Bishar Abdi, 16, learning English will give them the ability to help others.

For Fran Perez, 17, from Honduras, learning English is hard, but he likes school. "I like math class," he said, which isn't that different from his class in Honduras.

Ifrah Dahir, 17, here about 9 months from Ethiopia, likes math class, too. "I like to learn," she said. "I like the history of America."

Devore is a favorite among her students. "She's a nice teacher; she has a lot of patience," Faraah said.

Ikran Mahamed, 18, said she is studying hard because "I want to be a teacher, like Mrs. Devore."

Hodan Abdullahi, 16, and Ifrah Mahamed, 17, talked about their interest in going into medical professions, with Hodan interested in being a doctor and Ifrah wanting to be a nurse.

Devore said the state reports are a good way to reinforce the students' new language in four ways: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

The students work hard at learning English, she said, and they are proud of their new skills.

Learning about the different states can help them begin to understand a little more about life in their new country, she said.

Devore did not set out to teach ELL classes, but she said she believes now that she's found her niche. She recently completed her master's degree in the field.

If she has students who question the need to learn English, she said, she feels her experience of living in France has given her a ready answer for them.

"I tell them they need to learn to speak English here, just like I had to speak French there," she said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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