STAR program a success in any language

ELL students at Cunniff Elementary speak highly of their after-school time with Helda Shirinian

Raider Times photo / Artur Sedrakyan
Helda Shirinian (third from left) leads the STAR program for ELL students three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Artur Sedrakyan, Raider Times staff

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   The STAR program is about Students Taking Active Roles in their learning.

   Helda Shirinian is an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at Cunniff Elementary School in Watertown, who started the free after-school program three years ago. Each and every student of hers has different backgrounds, language proficiency, goals, academic levels, and immigration status.

    There are many elements affecting an ELL student’s learning, Mrs. Shirinian said. ELL students are expected to master content in English before they have reached a certain level of English proficiency, and ELL students are assessed in English before they are proficient in the language.

    Classroom teachers struggle with addressing the individual and diverse needs of ELL students in both academic skills and English language acquisition.

    “When I started to work at the Cuniff School, I saw the need of [English as Second Language] students with their homework besides the school time.”

Helda Shirinian (standing) leads the STAR program for ELL students three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Valerie Gladun
Helda Shirinian (standing) leads the STAR program for ELL students three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

    She also mentioned that most of the time parents don’t know how to help their children academically. They scramble with their own adaptation, work, and language obstacles.

    “When I first came to this country more than 20 years ago, I was lucky to know English proficiently, privileged to stay home and raise my children,” she said. “Most of my students’ families do not have that luxury with their education. They need to work and support their families while trusting their children’s teachers.”

    Mrs. Shirinian also speaks Armenian and Turkish. She said that when she became an ESL (English as Second Language) teacher, she realized school hours were not enough for her students to become successful academically and socially. She started the program so some students could have a place and time to socialize, finish their work, and read.

Helda Shirinian (reading) leads the STAR program for ELL students three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Valerie Gladun
Helda Shirinian (reading) leads the STAR program for ELL students three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

    Three days a week, when the bell rings at 2:30 p.m., the seven students come down to Room 111 in the kindergarten wing, drop their bags, and wait for other kids and student volunteers from Watertown High. Her students speak Portuguese, Spanish, and Armenian.

    “My students enjoy talking to older students, asking and discussing about their homework, high school life, and etc.,” Mrs. Shirinian said. “It is good to have high school students help them, because I want my students to see themselves in high school and beyond. I want my students to be successful. When they have this interaction with high schoolers, they see other experiences, similar situations either they have been through, or they are going through.

     The students eat their snack, then usually spend a half-hour reading and a half-hour on homework.

    “Usually one hour ends with laughter, chat, and relief,” Mrs. Shirinian said. “So when they go home, they feel accomplished with their work and reading.”

    Mrs. Shirinian thinks the program has been successful.

    “I am proud of all of my students, who come day by day, week after week to this program, get the help they need, and feel successful,” she said. “This is a true dedication that takes an active role in their learning. They trust me and I trust them.

    “My students are capable of doing anything. They just need the nurturing, guidance and support, which I am happy to deliver.”

    (To find out more information about the program or to volunteer to help, contact Helda Shirinian at [email protected].)

Meet the students

SAMUEL

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Artur Sedrakyan
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Samuel is 9 years old, He was born in America, but his parents are from Armenia.

Q: What do you like most about this program?

A: I finish my homework quickly and with a lot of help from Mrs. Shirinian and high school students, and when I go home I do not have to worry about doing my homework. I have more time to play video games, and rest. I get information from my classmates, and I feel comfortable around them.

Q: Do you like Mrs. Shirinian and the way she helps you with your homework?

A: I like Mrs. Shirinian and the way she teaches. She is a nice teacher. She helps me with all of my homework.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: I want to be a lawyer, because my grandpa is a lawyer.

 

JOSHUA

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Valerie Gladun
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Joshua is 9 years old. He was born in America, and his parents are from Guatemala.

Q: What do you like most about this program?

A: Mrs. Shirinian and the high school students help me with my homework, and when I go home I do not have homework anymore.

Q: Do you like Mrs. Shirinian and the way she helps you with your homework?

A: I like Mrs. Shirinian because she helps me, she explains my homework, and I get a lot of help from her.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: I have four things. I want to be a soccer player, because I love playing soccer. I want also to be a football player. I play it, and I think I can win. The third thing is a fashion designer. I want to make clothes for me. And the fourth thing I want is to work at Lizzy’s. They sell ice cream, and I can get ice cream for free.

 

FATHIMA

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Artur Sedrakyan
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Fathima is 10 years old. She was born in America; her parents are from Guatemala.

Q: Do you get the help you need in this program?

A: Mrs. Shirinian and the high school students help me with my homework. Sometimes I don’t get the hard questions, and they help me with my hard homework.

Q: Do you still do homework at home?

A: Sometimes I have homework to do at home, but I get a lot of free time. Sometimes I go outside, I watch TV with my family and rest.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: When I was little I really liked singing, and I wanted to be a singer. And now when I got older I really want to be a fashion designer. I really really like clothes. I really care what I wear, and I want other people in the world to have shoes and clothes. Clothes for all kinds of people who can’t afford expensive clothes.

Q: Is there anything you want to change in this program?

A: Not really, I like everything here, I don’t want to change anything.

 

FABIANA

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Valerie Gladun
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Fabiana is 10 years old, she was born in America. Her parents are from Guatemala.

Q: Do high school students help you with your homework?

A: They help me with my homework a lot, they have answers to all of my questions about my homework. I think the work I do here is successful, and I feel successful.

Q: Do you have homework to do after school?

A: Sometimes I have a little homework to do after school. Mostly I have time after school to watch TV, to play outside with my cousins, but sometimes we play at home, when it gets cold outside.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: I want to be a teacher, because I want to help students with their homework, I want to teach them, and I would like to open a program like the STAR program, just to help ESL students with their homework and to those who do not get a lot of help at home.

Q: Do you want high school students to continue helping you with your homework?

A: I still want high school students to help with my homework because sometimes the homework is hard, and the teachers do not really explain me the homework. I need more help to understand how to do hard homework, because high school students have hard homework, and they always do it. I want to be like them.

 

LUCAS

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Artur Sedrakyan
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Lucas is 8 years old, he was born in America, and his parents are from Brazil.

Q: Do high school students help you with your homework?

A: Yes I like it, because they help me finish my homework, so that I won’t have homework to do at home.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: I want to be a football player, because it is fun. Also I want to be a Spider-Man, because Spider-Man climbs walls, and I want to climb the whole building.

 

ARIANNA

The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Raider Times photo / Valerie Gladun
The STAR program for ELL students meets three times a week after school at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, Mass.

Arianna is 9 years old, she was born in America and her parents are from Dominican Republic.

Q: Do high school students help you with your homework?

A: Yes, because you guys help us with hard work, and when I go home I do not have homework to do. I go to karate and [with help] I finish my homework quickly and fast, and I have lots of time for myself.

Q: What do you want to become when you get older?

A: I want to be a painter, because I love painting and drawing and that is what I love to do. The second one is a teacher. That will be fun, but it will be a hard work. But I still want to do it.

 

Students from Watertown High School (standing center) volunteer with STAR program for ELL students at Cunniff Elementary School in Watertown, Mass.

Students from Watertown High School (standing center) volunteer with STAR program for ELL students at Cunniff Elementary School in Watertown, Mass.

–Nov. 30, 2016–

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