Burlington Refugee and Immigrant Children Learn English through Singing

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(Host) The Burlington school system teaches children from twenty-seven different countries.

Some of the newest immigrants are Somali-Bantus who began settling in the city three years ago.

Friday at summer school there was a musical melting pot of sorts.

VPR’s John Dillon explains

(Children’s voices) Ladies and gentlemen! It’s the Burlington International Summer School. Presenting our awesome show! We are students from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States music runs under.. It’s time to sing in English .

(Dillon) After four weeks of learning English, these kids were ready to let loose in song.

(Dillon) They ran through a repertoire of children’s classics – and one very funky alphabet song.

(Children’s voices) A-B-C-D-E-F-G singing do wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo

(Dillon) Mary Kay O’Brien directed the performance. She works with refugee and immigrant children, and she says the music is a great way to learn language.

(O’Brien) What it is, it’s a chance to for them to just shine, to feel good about themselves. It’s a chance for them to pronounce English, to sing in English.. A lot of the lessons this summer were about what the songs were about So they learned a lot of vocabulary and pronunciation. It’s a fun way to learn grammar (laughs) It’s just fun..

(Dillon) The Burlington school system includes a rainbow of nationalities. About 140 kids attended the English as a second language classes this summer.

(O’Brien) We have Bantu children, we have Bosnian children. We have Vietnamese children, kids from the Congo, Togo, a lot of different places

(Dillon) Burlington School Superintendent Jeanne Collins says about 470 of the 35-hundred students come from other countries. She says the international mix means the schools have to focus hard on English and language skills. And she says the American-born students benefit from the exposure to other cultures.

(Collins) The world is quickly becoming global and I think in Burlington we have an exceptional opportunity for our kids to experience that global society and the ability to not be afraid of other cultures, learn about other cultures, and work as a team with a variety of other people. .

(Dillon) The school staff is a multinational bunch as well. Isha Mohamed came to Vermont in March 2004. Now she’s helping Bantu children learn English.

(Mohamed).. I work with the students when they didn’t understand something And I’m having a great day, every day because it’s fun to work with kids I’m really happy to work with them….

(Dillon) The fun is infectious. For this classic number, singers in the front row wore ant-like antennae.

The kids now have the rest of the summer off from English classes, but it’s clear that their enthusiasm will carry through to the classes in the fall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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