One farmer finds answer to ESL students' virtual learning struggles

As classes turn virtual due to COVID-19, some students are being left behind

BUCKEYE, Az. -- Virtual classrooms are the new normal for many students, but for non-native speaking English students, trying to get good grades can be challenging in the best of times.

As classes turn virtual due to COVID-19, some students are being left behind.

Valeria Gonzalez, 11, told Fox News that her school in Buckeye, Az., doesn’t offer a virtual English as a second language (ESL) program. All of her classes are taught by an English speaking teacher with no Spanish translation.

Valeria Gonzalez, 11, is at risk of falling behind in school. She's struggling to understand her course work as her school doesn't offer a virtual ESL program for Spanish translation (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Valeria Gonzalez, 11, is at risk of falling behind in school. She's struggling to understand her course work as her school doesn't offer a virtual ESL program for Spanish translation (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Gonzalez said that since she only speaks Spanish, listening to a teacher all day in English makes learning hard.

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But after hearing about some families' struggles, farmer Carrie Mayfield decided to turn her farmhouse in Buckeye into a schoolhouse for her employees' children, providing stable WiFi access for the children to attend their virtual classes, all for free.

“It’s been so much fun and so rewarding to be able to get to know them and we love their parents. They’re great employees for us and so this was definitely a way that we could give back a little bit,” said Carrie Mayfield, director of Sweet Flower Home Farmhouse School.

Teacher Madison Harris stops by the farm's schoolhouse twice a week to help with homework, classwork, and Spanish to English translation (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Teacher Madison Harris stops by the farm's schoolhouse twice a week to help with homework, classwork, and Spanish to English translation (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Mayfield transformed her living room into a classroom, hiring a teacher two days a week to help with homework and English translation. “We’re just hoping that we can at least give them a good start in this crazy, crazy time,” said Mayfield.

Now Gonzales is getting the tutoring she needs to understand her school work. “We’ve now gotten another high school student from Buckeye Union High School...so she’s coming in every week and tutoring one on one with our Spanish speaking student...so I’m seeing [Gonzalez] now trying to understand and making an effort to speak English,” said Mayfield.

Mayfield's schoolhouse provides a reliable wifi access so students can complete their assignments and attend virtual classes (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Mayfield's schoolhouse provides a reliable wifi access so students can complete their assignments and attend virtual classes (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Nine to 10 students come to the schoolhouse each week, ranging from first grade to high school. Teacher Madison Harris offers homework help as well as tutoring whenever the students need it. Mayfield and Harris also organize enrichment sessions including baking and guest speakers, and provides catered lunches.

One of the main focuses has been helping Gonzalez learn English.

“[Gonzalez] is kind of on her own and I feel like, how many other kids are at that school that are in the same boat as her? We can’t forget about them…we can’t let them fall behind because they deserve an education just like everybody else,” said Harris, teacher at Sweet Flower Home Farmhouse School.

“So we need to do whatever we can and that’s what we are trying to do, we just do what we can for them so that she can hopefully be ready to integrate back into the classroom and not be too far behind,” said Harris.

ESL classes vary. Some school districts don’t offer any programs while others call them essential.

The Nogales Unified School District, lies along the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s home to about 5,600 students, almost all of them are currently attending school virtually. The district says 98% of the children are Hispanic  with most being bilingual. However 21% require ESL classes.

The Nogales Unified School District says 98% of their students are hispanic with 21% needing English as a second langauge classes. In addition to their English langauge classes they're also providing virtual tutoring and online access to translation programs so the students don't fall behind (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

The Nogales Unified School District says 98% of their students are hispanic with 21% needing English as a second langauge classes. In addition to their English langauge classes they're also providing virtual tutoring and online access to translation programs so the students don't fall behind (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

“We have still continued to be able to provide equal and the same type of education that we are doing for all our students with additional assistance if they need extra modifications and so forth,” said Fernando Parra, superintendent of Nogales the Unified School District #1.

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In addition to their ESL classes, the Nogales school district is offering virtual tutoring and access to online programs like Rosetta Stone so students can grow at their own pace.

“That’s a really good instrument because they can pace themselves and they can continue if they feel comfortable moving on along while they have the teacher support,” said Parra.

Superintendent Parra said they hope to offer a hybrid learning model in mid-October,  depending on how Arizona’s coronavirus cases.

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