Biloxi schools show parents what ESL class has to offer

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi Public School District wants to show foreign students and their families they are welcome members of the community. There are about 200 students enrolled in the district's English as a Second Language (ESL) program. On Thursday, the district hosted an informational fair so parents can see what their children are learning.

Tahvar Robinson said when came to this country from Jamaica, he spoke Patois, but very little English.

"I thought I wouldn't blend in because I didn't know how to speak the language as well as them," said Robinson. "So I feel kind of bad."

Jewel Kastantas is one of Biloxi's ESL teachers. She said the program currently has students from about 17 countries.

"We have a lot of technology to assist our students in their language learning which is wonderful," Kastantas said. "They love to get on the computers. We have other programs to develop their vocabulary language and their reading comprehension. There's just many things available in the classroom in both programs, secondary and elementary."

Kastantas said the ESL classes help students through the difficult process of catching up to their grade levels as far as language skills. She said parents, even if they don't speak English, can help.

"We are trying to reach out to the families to let them know that we are an open school. We want them to come in and ask us questions. We want to help them as much as we can. The more the parents feel comfortable, the more the children feel comfortable and succeed because then the parents will support the schools."

Students say ESL class gives them the confidence and makes them excited about learning their new language.

Filip Otahal of the Czech Republic said he was scared when he first arrived in the United States. Now he said he's learned, "to read, to write and to speak."

"I like doing big words," said Robinson. "I like having a challenge."

Biloxi Junior High Assistant Principal Ricky Reed remembers with the school district started its ESL program and said he's seen the difference it can make for students struggling with English.

"Assisting them with their work in their regular classes, and just helping them when they do struggle with language," said Reed. "It definitely just makes the transition easier."

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