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Herberich ESL teacher helps PTA earn national award

4/26/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Herberich’s Ashley Kimberlin is shown with her grandmother Lillian Lennon, mother Karen Kimberlin and father Russell Blair, all of Norton, as they prepare food for a Thanksgiving feast for Herberich’s English as a Second Language students.
Herberich Primary School teacher Ashley Kimberlin is shown with students who participated in the multicultural fair she plans each year.
Photos courtesy of Ashley Kimberlin
FAIRLAWN — The Herberich Primary School PTA is one of five nationwide to earn a national PTA award for events that reinforce the family-school relationship.

The school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Ashley Kimberlin, applied for a PTA grant for special events she holds for her students and their families. While the school didn’t get the grant, it did get the Phoebe Apperson Hearst-National PTA Family-School Partnership Award of Merit as a result of the application, which Kimberlin prepared with the help of PTA President Romi Brozeit.

Kimberlin, a Norton resident, said the school’s PTA earned the award for three events she plans each year for the 30 to 40 ESL students she works with: a Thanksgiving feast, a multicultural fair and a spring family picnic.

For the Thanksgiving feast, Kimberlin asks students to bring in items to make side dishes, while she and her mother, Karen Kimberlin, prepare four to five turkeys for the lunchtime event.

“We start at home at 4 in the morning in electric roasters and then bring them in and finish at school,” she said.

Her father, Russell Blair, sister Whitney Blair and 86-year-old grandmother Lillian Lennon, all of Norton, also help serve the meal.

The event serves as a way to help her students, who come from more than a dozen countries, understand the American holiday, she said.

“They have never experienced that before — it doesn’t matter what country they are from,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of the American culture. They see it around them, and then they get to be part of that tradition.”

It also helps introduce her students, many of whom are from Asian countries, to traditional American foods.

“Nobody ever knows what gravy is,” she said.

Kimberlin also organizes a multicultural fair every March that gives her ESL students and students who are from other countries the chance to celebrate their culture.

“They create a display, dress in traditional clothing, and everybody brings a food to share,” she said. “Some students give special performances, such as a traditional dance or demonstration.”

At the most recent fair, 16 countries and the continent of Africa were represented, she said.

The family picnic, which usually takes place a couple of weeks before the end of the school year, provides the students and their families with a relaxing evening that features typical American summertime dishes and games.

“The parents really enjoy it, especially the moms, because a large percentage of my students are here because of their dad’s job,” Kimberlin said. “Mom is at home and doesn’t speak English. [The picnic] is very nonthreatening because the person next to you doesn’t speak English.

“It’s very family-centered,” she added. “My entire family attends, and they really enjoy it. For the children, it just shows the family’s investment in education.”

Kimberlin also has helped facilitate a conversation group for parents of her students that meets locally during the school day.

“It’s for parents to practice English,” she said.

The teacher said she gets a lot of positive feedback on the programs.

“I had a parent email me her work schedule so I could organize the multicultural festival around it,” she said. “They really get into it. Often the families will visit their home country and bring things back to share or give away at the fair.”

In turn, Kimberlin said she has developed some great relationships with her students and their families. She is often invited to visit families that return to their home countries, and over spring break she traveled to Japan and met up with several former students, she said.

“I saw 11 former students from seven families,” she said. “I met another family who have some friends living here now, and they want to come to America, so they invited me to stay so I could practice English. They are all in different parts of the country, so I got to see a lot of the country during eight days.”

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