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Student Laptops For Virtual Learning Are Also Helping Parents Learn English


At the start of the pandemic, schools rushed to get laptops into the hands of students at home. In Nashville, Tenn., those laptops created new opportunities for parents who want to learn English. Alexis Marshall of our member station WPLN reports.

MARIA LEOS: OK, we are students.


ALEXIS MARSHALL, BYLINE: A dozen or so parents run through speaking exercises in a virtual class hosted by Metro Nashville Public Schools. It's early in the spring semester, and for many parents, this class is their first formal English instruction.

LEOS: OK. Now we are ready to do the next lesson.

MARSHALL: Prior to the pandemic, Nashville's English learning program for parents was fully in person. At the time, any virtual options would have been limited to families who could easily get online. But that access boomed during remote learning when Nashville schools distributed nearly 60,000 devices to their students. In the spring, the district began offering English-language classes online for adults for the very first time, and sign-ups more than tripled.

LEOS: It's much better because they do it through a phone or they do it through their computer.

MARSHALL: Maria Leos is an instructor with the program.

LEOS: And it's something that doesn't take a lot of time away from their family.


MARSHALL: That's Luz Adriana Ruiz Gonzalez. She says that convenience is why the courses have worked so well for her. Last spring, she logged on once a week using her son's school-issued laptop. Gonzalez says she started as a total beginner, learning introductions, numbers, colors.

RUIZ GONZALEZ: Hi, my name is Adriana. I am from Mexico. I like Pixar.

MARSHALL: And as she progressed, she began trying out her English in the real world. One day while shopping, Gonzalez says a fellow customer asked her where she got an item in her cart. Gonzalez did her best to answer in English

RUIZ GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARSHALL: She says she's not sure if the other lady found what she was looking for. But what's important is that she had the confidence to try. And that confidence is key to gaining fluency in a new language. In a class later in the semester, Gonzalez and her classmates nail question after question in a quiz. They're learning how to order food at a restaurant, a foundational, practical skill.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Hamburger, hamburger, ice cream.

MARSHALL: One student still needs a little push, but with some encouragement from Maria Leos and fellow instructor Ana Selby, she goes through an exercise and gets every question right.

LEOS: Was that Nedra speaking a carton of milk, a loaf of bread?


LEOS: Nedra, you said you didn't know and you know.

ANA SELBY: Yes. Nedra, see, you can do it.

MARSHALL: That's the kind of encouragement that makes Gonzalez want to enroll again in the fall. She says taking the classes makes her feel proud and like she's setting a good example for her son. Thanks to last semester's success, Nashville's English learning program for families will keep the virtual option going forward. The district anticipates even more people will sign up in the fall. For NPR News, I'm Alexis Marshall in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BOOKS' "CLASSY PENGUINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexis Marshall