Summer 2012 Feature Article: TESOL in the Park
by Kathleen Van Lieshout, TESOL intern
Green Bay, Wisconsin, is famous for the frozen tundra and the Packers. However, Green Bay also has many tourist sites and an excellent Park and Recreation program. This program is set up to ensure children and teenagers a safe and healthy place to spend their summers. For two summers, I worked in low-income neighborhood parks with people ranging in age from two to twenty. Working in a diverse environment opened my world to new cultures, languages, and customs; and every day I am thankful that I had this opportunity.
My days at work mostly consisted of feeding children lunch and hanging out with them. The daily activities usually included basketball and tag; but we also played capture-the-flag, volleyball, soccer, and made-up games, thanks to the little youngsters with big imaginations. Many of the games required explaining rules to young children who did not always understand English. Last summer, for example, we had two little girls (ages three and six) who spoke only Spanish, and yet my partner and I were still able to integrate them into our activities and get them to understand what we were doing. Honestly, they had a blast every day; and they learned a lot of English, too.
I often get questions from friends and relatives about how I communicated with these children when I am not fluent in Spanish. After having worked in the Park and Recreation Program, I just smile and say, “It is really not that hard.” Once I got used to the language barriers, I had to get creative; and let me tell you, movement and demonstrations are a great way to get everyone on the same page.
This job opened my eyes to how some people mistreat others who are less privileged or of a different race, but I can see that kids are kids and they will all get into trouble at some point in their lives. This is part of growing up. The children I worked with are some of the most loveable, funny, and unique individuals that I will ever meet. Through this job, I know I have made an impact on some of the children. Many Green Bay residents might write them off as troublemakers, but it is the most amazing feeling to get to the park every day and see how excited they are, waiting all morning to beat my partner and me in basketball. When I am around these children, I do not see race or language barriers; I see people who can do great things in this world. I have learned many humbling qualities from them and even a little more Spanish along the way. During my summer work experience for the Park and Recreation program, I taught children games, life lessons and language skills. They, in turn, did the same for me.
The UW-L TESOL program is part of the Department of Modern Languages.
Mission Statement: The ability to communicate across national and linguistic borders has become essential in our globalized world. The mission of the Department of Modern Languages is to help students develop the linguistic, literary and cross-cultural competence necessary to live, work and be lifelong learners in our diverse world.
Contact information: Janis Hanson, TESOL Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
We dedicate our website to the founding mother of the TESOL minor and the ESL Institute at UWL: Dr. Mary Gayle Pifer.