Third-grader Kevin Sanchez recites a passage from a third-grade English-reading textbook with ease.

Then, the former bilingual student hits an unfamiliar word: “tusks.” Nothing comes to mind, not a word in Spanish, not an image.

“Do you know what a t-u-s-k is?” asks his teacher Chris Damore, sounding out the word.

Damore leads Kevin in a series of questions asking him to locate the feet, head, ears, tail, trunk, then finally the tusks on an elephant drawing in the book.

Kevin beams. Another hurdle crossed. A new word to toss around on the playground.

Kevin is in his first year of English after starting in bilingual education since kindergarten. He is still learning new words. Feeling out the nuances of English, which are sometimes at odds with Spanish, which he speaks at home.

He has learned to dot the end of his sentences with a period. Show pauses in his thoughts with commas. Put his thoughts in sequential order. Reflect and project between past and present with changes in grammar ? all in English.

“The words had weird sounds,” Kevin said, remembering his initial discomfort with English just six months ago. “At first, I sounded it out, and it sounded funny. But I practice a lot with my sister.”

Damore, Kevin’s teacher at Martin Elementary in Santa Ana, sees growth in his reading speed, vocabulary and grammar. Damore notes that Kevin, like his other students moving from Spanish to English, stumbles on strange, new vocabulary like “tusks” or “bather” but often finds courage to sound it out.

“This year I’ve learned more stuff,” Kevin said. “I’m learning how to write in English.”

– John Gittelsohn

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