The classroom is up the open staircase to the right in room 220 at the Edgartown School. Flags of world nations hang from the ceiling. There is a quote on the door that reads, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” This is the English Language Learning room, although it is not the only place in the school where English language learning takes place.
Nicole Hawkes is a teacher and ELL coordinator. Tamara King is a teacher and interpreter. The roles they play in an average workday require many skills, being teachers, interpreters, car pool coordinators, cultural liaisons and even emergency contacts.
“It’s kind of two jobs rolled into one,” Mrs. Hawkes said. “The biggest part of our job is working with families.”
When Mrs. Hawkes moved to the Vineyard 11 years ago, she took a training course on teaching English as a second language. In 2007 she commuted to the University of Massachusetts in Boston to study for a master’s degree in applied linguistics. She used to work at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and also teaches at the Martha’s Vineyard Adult Learning Program. She has also made time to travel, visiting six continents in her lifetime.
In Brazil, she visited Curitiba, Florianopolis, Manaus and Ilha do Mel. Ilha do Mel is her favorite, an island known for its natural beauty where cars are not allowed. Like many people, she enjoys the end of the week.
“I especially like Fridays because we play games,” she wrote in an email to the Gazette. “We have hundreds of games. Today I played Blurt and Outburst.”
On Wednesday this week, Mrs. Hawkes was playing a language game with a group of children. Classical music played softly in the background.
For homework, the students were supposed to ask their parents about the sounds different animals make in their respective mother tongues. Onomatopoeia, the sound words people say to imitate animals — like bees buzzing, cats meowing and dogs woofing — are not universal across cultures.
Later Mrs. Hawkes went to a math and science classroom to help a student with pre-algebra. The classroom is decorated with student posters showing the molecular structure of atoms. The students recently went on a field trip to the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. A net suspended from the ceiling holds bits of animal remains, a feather, clam and conch shells and a crab leg.
“I love going in there,” Mrs. Hawkes said. “I love math.”
A teacher passed out a problem sheet about a hypothetical booster club re-sodding a football field. Mrs. Hawkes quietly troubleshot the problem with the kid. The student scratched his head, erased something and tried again.
How many rolls of sod are needed? What is the total cost of sod? 4,800 rolls? $6,480 and tax?
With her tablet computer, Mrs. Hawkes shows the student search results for the word “sod.” Along with games, images are useful tools for teaching language.
When time is up, the student Mrs. Hawkes was working with is one of two chosen to draw the solution on the blackboard for the whole class to see.
Mrs. Hawkes regularly checks to make sure kids go for homework help after school. Mrs. King, who has children of her own, talks to parents who don’t speak English, allowing them to be involved with their kids’ education. For this and other reasons, ELL families who move to other towns sometimes prefer that their children graduate from the Edgartown School. When ELL parents organize carpools, Mrs. Hawkes or Mrs. King is usually in the phone chain.
Tamara King moved from Ecuador to the United States in 1992. She graduated from a high school in New Bedford that offered bilingual education. She had friends from Portugal and despite being a native Spanish speaker who learned English, she wound up falling in love with the language of Camões. So she decided to take all her courses in it.
“By my senior year, my Portuguese was almost perfect,” Mrs. King said. She went on to community college and studied infant psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
In 2003 she started work at the Edgartown School. Her schedule is taped to the door of room 220. Most days she gets 20 minutes for lunch. Like Mrs. Hawkes, she visits classrooms across the school due to the number of ELL learners spread across different grades. To students she emphasizes the necessity of learning English while keeping hold of their native tongue.
“I know what it is to be an immigrant,” Mrs. King said. “I am a bridge for the families that speak another language.”
The ELL program at the Edgartown School includes many students whose families are from Brazil, as well as from Colombia, Mexico and France. Many of the Brazilian students are from Mantenopolis in the state of Espirito Santo. Nearly a third of the kindergarten class speaks a language in addition to English. Most of Mrs. Hawkes’s ELL students were born in Oak Bluffs.
“When they perfect their English,” Mrs. King said, “We let them fly like birds.”