Food + Language + Family = Culture

This week, we’re all celebrating history, culture and family with our food. Here in NYC, we’re lucky enough to be located in the most diverse city in the world, with every culture’s food at our fingertips and a great sampling of language and culture.

Many of our students come to school learning English as a second language, and they are often the strongest English speakers in their homes. Behind the Book is here to help – in fact, 20% of our students last year were English Language Learners. We work extra hard to supplement ESL classes with staff and volunteers that speak multiple languages themselves.

At PS 154 in Harlem, working with the same ESL class for the second year in a row allows us to see the impact on – and progress of – the students. They’re tying their language learning to their cultural learning, and getting in some samples of new foods as well!

img_4331Last year, Mark, a third-grader originally from the Dominican Republic, met Jake Perez. Jake wrote Sweet Coco: Dessert With Dad, and shared his story of immigration – and his flan! – with the class.

Jake taught Mark a few words in sign language, including the sign to show agreement. If you put your thumb to your forehead and point your pinky at the person that you agree with, you’re doing it right. If you do it the wrong way, Mark will patiently correct you. (Some of us may have some, ahem, experience in being corrected several times.)

Mark’s classmate, Shayneze, remembers the art class in which they made a chef hat and apron and decorated the clothing with cultural symbols. One idea that resonated deeply with her was that Jake wants to write more books – but first, he has to read more and more books. At the age of 7, Shayneze had already learned that writing takes a lot of effort and many revisions.

Both children were very proud to show us that they’re reading English at grade level. They img_4319showed us their current written work, and the many many books in their classroom. Soon, they’ll be on to chapter books!

Mark and Shayneze are excited to be working with Behind the Book again this year. Their teacher, Ms. Acevedo said they are “constantly speaking about how exciting it was. At the beginning of this school year, they were very happy to hear they would be working with Behind the Book again.” They’ve met Adam Rubin and read Dragons Love Tacos while continuing their study of culture and food to enhance their language learning.

img_9592As the program started, what were they most looking forward to? Their field trip to eat tacos. (Can you blame them?) Both kids were introduced to tacos for the first time, and in the process they learned about corn in Mexican culture. The students are going to go on to research family recipes, and bring in samples at the end of the class to celebrate!

Here at Behind the Book, we’re thankful for bright students like these, and for great teachers like Ms. Acevedo. We’re also thankful for our friends – volunteers, supporters, and partners like you.

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!