Conversations with Tim: A student’s perspective on living and learning during the pandemic

June 4, 2021

This month, Conversations with Tim features a discussion between Tim Boals, WIDA founder and director, and Hazel Mendoza, a multilingual learner and high school student who enjoys riding her bike and spending time with her family. They sat down (virtually) with Merideth Trahan, WIDA chief of staff, to talk about what it’s been like to live and learn during the pandemic. With Merideth moderating, Tim and Hazel get to know one another and talk about what it's been like to learn from home for the past year.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Listening option: If you want to listen to Conversations with Tim while walking the dog or driving, now you can!

Listen to the audio here or continue reading this abridged version of their conversation.

Merideth: Hazel, will you start by sharing a little bit about you? What grade are you in and what do you like to do in your free time?

Hazel: I'm a freshman in high school and I go to high school in Verona, Wisconsin. In my free time, I mostly like to go on my bike or go to where my cousins live and play around with my baby cousin.

Merideth: Can you bike to see your baby cousin?

Hazel: Yeah, they live really close to where I live.

Merideth: Starting your freshman year of high school in a pandemic must have been very strange. Have you had classes in the building yet?

Hazel: My school already started doing in-person school, but we got to decide if we went or not. My parents decided that they didn't want me to go yet, so I still do online.

Merideth: What has it been like to be an online student right now?

Hazel: It's really different from going in person. In person you would do a lot of activities in the classroom or have to get up and go to different classes. Now, through Zoom you have to join the class at a certain time, be there, listen to a presentation they have and then that's what class is. And then just do the homework.

Merideth: How many classes do you have right now?

Hazel: Right now, I only have three.

Merideth: I know that schools have been changing and adapting how they offer class and what it looks like. Is there anything really cool that your teachers have done online that surprised you?

Hazel: Teachers do a lot of Kahoot! in class. It's a fun way to get more involved into what the class is about.

Merideth: How does Kahoot! work?

Hazel: It's a website where teachers can make questions and then we join through our iPads. They have questions and we pick which one's the right answer and then if you get it right, you are number one.

Merideth: Do all the students have iPads?

Hazel: At my school, yes.

Tim: Hazel, do you ever get to meet with your teachers one on one?

Hazel: Yeah, when we have conferences it's just me and the teacher. Sometimes you can email the teacher when you need help on something, and they will set up a certain time where it can be just you two.

Merideth: Do you ever do small group work with other students?

Hazel: Just for a culinary class I had. That was really the only class where I would get put into small groups to work with other people.

Merideth: If you have a culinary class online, are you there at home doing some of the cooking?

Hazel: The teacher would give us something that she wanted us to cook and then we would take pictures of the process and stuff like that, and then turn it into a presentation and turn it in.

Merideth: Can you think of one thing you prepared that your family enjoyed?

Hazel: We made cookies and an omelet.

Tim: That sounds nice.

Merideth: Even though we're all hoping for a return to more normal in-person school, what are some things that teachers and families can do to support language learning at home (cooking is a good example of that)?

Tim: Cooking is a great idea! We really encourage parents and families to spend time in their native language at home. Sometimes people use English in the home and that's good, too, but oftentimes there may be grandparents or people within the home that don't speak English and it's important to maintain your own language, your native language and your culture and to share with families. Cook together, talk together, tell stories together. Hazel, do you ever get opportunities to tell stories in Spanish?

Hazel: In my house it's mostly Spanish because my parents don't understand English that well. So, in my house I mostly speak Spanish and most everything we do is in Spanish: watch movies in Spanish and talk in Spanish.

Tim: Maintaining your language is important. Of course, learning English is important, too, but maintaining your language and culture is an important part of who you are. So, I'm glad to hear that you do things with your family, and you tell family stories in your native language. I think that's time very well spent. Do you get to read in Spanish?

Hazel: Yes, I have Spanish class where everything I do in there is in Spanish, and we read in Spanish. At home, sometimes I have to read things in Spanish, or recently I went to go take a test and everything was in Spanish too.

Tim: There's a saying in Spanish that “una persona que sabe dos idiomas, vale por dos.” That saying is that when a person speaks two languages, they are worth two people. So, you're on the right track. You're maintaining your language and you're learning English.

Merideth: Hazel, some experts are really concerned that kids are falling behind in their schoolwork during the pandemic and not getting the same educational experience and opportunity. I'm curious, because it is usually experts talking – what you think about that?

Hazel: When I started doing online school, I was in the end of eighth grade year. It was hard for me. But then starting my freshman year, I started doing better in school than when I would go in person. But I also know some people that struggle more with online.

Merideth: What was it about the experience of being online that made you do better in school?

Hazel: When they give you an assignment, they will give you a slideshow about that assignment. When it was in person, they would give you a paper and you had to do it. Sometimes people forget or don't understand well and it's nice to have that slide to look over as many times as you want.

Merideth: That makes sense. So, the teacher would put the expectations in a slideshow and then you had something you could go back and reference instead of just having to listen and write it down. What are you looking forward to when you get to go back in person?

Hazel: My school district got a new high school and I've only been inside once. I’m excited to start going to school there.

Merideth: It looks beautiful from the outside.

Tim: Will you participate in some extracurriculars next year when you're back to school? Do you have a favorite sport or a favorite activity?

Hazel: I like playing volleyball, so I'm trying to do that next year again.

Merideth: Hazel, at WIDA one of our goals is to support teachers and provide helpful resources and materials. Is there a message that we could give to teachers from you, a talented and adaptable multilingual learner?

Hazel: Sometimes, for students like me that speak two languages, when a teacher uses big words it's a little bit difficult for me. I understand English, but there's a couple of words here and there that I don't understand, like during a test or something, I find that really hard.

Merideth: So, you want to make sure that when they're giving instructions, or using a test, that it is language...

Tim: you're familiar with. That's really good advice.

Hazel: Just asking them to have a more easy explanation, I think.

Merideth: How about you, Tim, if there’s a message that you could give to students like Hazel, what would it be?

Tim: I already mentioned the importance of maintaining language and culture, and I was really pleased to hear that Hazel spends a lot of time talking with her family. The other message is just to find books that you love to read in Spanish and in English. Find materials that you're interested in at your local library and make sure that if they don't have those books in Spanish, ask the librarian to order them. Reading is something that will help your language grow in both languages.

Merideth: I'm so impressed, Hazel! You started your first year in high school all online and you successfully figured it all out. This will be a story you’ll tell friends and family for years to come. Someday you'll be talking to your kids, or your grandkids, and can say “you're not going to believe how I started high school!”

Tim: Yes, that's true, Hazel. You’re going to go places.

About Conversations with Tim 

Conversations with Tim, WIDA Founder and Director  is a monthly WIDA news article that features a conversation between WIDA Founder and Director Tim Boals and a colleague or two in the field of multilingual learner education. Together, they discuss the important innovation, research and collaboration taking place today. 

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