Winchester Students Overcome Language Gap, Get Acquainted with CTE Classes
February 14, 2020
February 14, 2020
By Byron D. Clemsen
It’s called a Delta Dart, and it’s a paper airplane featuring a propeller, rubber band, glue, a pin, and a little bit of wood. It’s also turned out to be a great way to overcome language barriers and to interest students in career and technology education (CTE) classes.
About halfway through the 2017-18 school year, my 45th year in education, my principal asked if anyone in our CTE department would be willing to teach an exploratory, after-school class for Spanish-speaking students. As department head, I accepted the challenge and designed a class which would end with students flying their Delta Darts.
My first step was to ask the leader of our English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department, Maggie Gavello, to help me find students for the new class, which would meet every Tuesday afternoon for five weeks. She quickly had 10 lined up.
She brought them to the first class meeting and explained how it would work before turning to me and saying, “You’ll do fine Mr. Clemsen. These young men are excited about the opportunity to learn a little about your class and technology.” I have learned a little Spanish over my years of teaching (that was year 45), but the first night was a bit of struggle as the students were even more limited in English than I was in Spanish. We made it through with visual examples, a few words and some hand signs. I knew if I could get one of my Spanish-speaking students to help me, it would go even better, so I asked one to help and we were off to the races.
During the five weeks of that first class, we never had fewer than six students any afternoon and all 10 went on to enroll in our Materials & Processes class the next school year! It was such a success that the class has been offered every semester since, and every student who’s ever taken it has signed up for a full-semester CTE course afterward.
On the last night of our most recent class, which we call Flight Night, we got some unexpected
publicity. A reporter for The Winchester Star happened to be at school to cover a district tennis match and saw us attempting to fly the Delta Darts we’d constructed. He came over to see what was happening, asked some questions, took some notes and photos, and went on his way. I didn’t think any more about it, as I was busy with the students. The wind was a little too strong, so the flights weren’t as good as they usually are, but we all enjoyed seeing the Delta Darts in action.
The following day a front-page article appeared in the paper headlined, “Introduction propels some ESOL Handley students into tech classes.” It described our new class and included three photos of the students and me attempting to fly the Delta Darts. Of course, this was a huge hit with the students. Ms. Gavello and I made sure each of the students got a copy of the paper.
I’m now in my 47th year as an educator and there is nothing quite like teaching. My students keep me young and I love facing the challenges of every day. As long as that’s true, I’ll continue. When I first started in 1973, my goal was to teach for 50 years. I’m getting close. Who knows what the future will hold?
Clemsen, a member of the Winchester Education Association, teaches at John Handley High School. He was named High School Teacher of the Year in 2018-19 by the Virginia Technology and Engineering Education Association.