For the past two weeks, third and fourth graders at the New Arrivals Center at Jones Elementary School in Bryan have been practicing English using restaurant menus, and Friday put their practice to the test at Ché Anson Jones.
About 30 students filed into the art room-turned-restaurant at the elementary school where they were served a lunch of sweet tea or water, salad, chips, spaghetti with a breadstick and their choice of a cookie. The only catch was they had to order everything in English.
As part of the New Arrivals Center, all of the participating students have been in the United States for a year or less with students from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, NAC teacher Yvette Barrera said.
This is the first year for the luncheon, she said, and it was just something she thought could be useful to let the students practice what they have been learning in class with menus from restaurants like McDonald’s, Wings ’N More and Chicken Express.
“One of my students shared last week how he was able to go to McDonald’s and order for himself and his mom in English, and I thought that was very powerful because this is a life skill that they can use, and they can help their families translate in English,” Barrera said.
Barrera saw an example of that moment when she was at Chicken Express and saw a boy translating for his grandfather, she said, and it struck her how powerful that moment must have felt for the boy to be able to help his grandpa.
Beyond restaurant menus, Barrera said, the skills and practice can be used in grocery stores and anywhere else a family not familiar with English might need help.
Emy Moreno, a fourth grade NAC student from Mexico, said she was able to help some of the other students at her table who were struggling, and she enjoys helping others practice English. She has been helping her parents also.
“My parents, they’re practicing, and like I feel lonely because just me and my brother will only talk English together, so I’m practicing with him. With my parents, I’m practicing with them,” she said. “When they make mistakes in English, I obviously help them, and it feels good helping others in English when they don’t know English.”
With her parents, Moreno practices colors and other words and also reads books with them and asks them questions about the book.
“They did pretty good,” she said. “… I think they’re going to learn English one day, I’m pretty sure.”
When it came to the luncheon, though, Moreno said her favorite part was the food.
In addition to ordering – and eating – the food, Barrera said the luncheon also gave students a chance to dress up as if they were attending a nice restaurant.
“Many of them do not have the opportunity to go to a restaurant to sit down, how to use a napkin, how to use different forks, and I thought how cool would it be to expose them to that at such an early age,” Barrera said, thanking the bilingual department, campus administrators and her NAC teachers and assistants for making it happen.