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New library selections expand opportunities for multilingual students and families

Aerial view of Kuhlman stadium with water tower in foreground.
New library selections expand opportunities for multilingual students and families

It is common for fourth or fifth graders to read in front of younger classes in Edina elementary schools. Most often, the stories heard are read in English, however this spring, classes at Cornelia Elementary School listened to their older classmates read stories in both English and another language.

Students in Courtney Borowicz’s first grade classroom listened carefully and roared with laughter as fifth graders Abdul and Zak read the familiar story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, trading off between English and Somali. Stories were also read in Vietnamese, Kannada, Hindi, Spanish, Tibetan and Korean. The books are part of a new multilingual library selection in Edina elementary schools, which includes books in about 15 languages representing the five most prevalent first languages other than English at each site.

These new selections were made possible through an educator grant from the Edina Education Fund. Elementary English learner teachers Liz Denn, Kerry Feyder, Kathryn Gimse, Crystal Sorenson and Liz Parker submitted the application. In addition to encouraging bilingual skills in both multilingual and monolingual families, their goal with the library was to “increase awareness of and appreciation for the many languages and cultures reflected in our students at EPS,” Denn said.

“The development of students’ first languages is crucial to their proficiency in a second language,” Denn said. “Instead of viewing our bilingual students who need support with English as being ‘deficient’ in their language skills, a focus on multilingualism will help our community develop, strengthen and value both first-language skills and emerging English skills in our students.”

At Cornelia, Sorenson invited K-2 classroom teachers to sign up for guest speakers to read books aloud to their students. “Our students were so excited to share this skill with their younger classmates,” she said. This is one of many ideas English learner teachers have on how to use their multilingual library selections. Teachers have also shared the books with new multilingual families as one of the resources Edina has available to support their child’s first language. For students who are multilingual, but not multi-literate, the books have been a great way to demonstrate the visual difference between English and another language, Denn said.

While the ways in which the books are used will undoubtedly expand, it is clear to Denn that “these resources will help broaden not only the perspectives and experiences of our multilingual families, but of our monolingual families, as well.”