At Nashville school, reading overcomes challenges of language - WSMV News 4

At Nashville school, reading overcomes challenges of language

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Twenty-six different languages are spoken at Tusculum Elementary School. (WSMV) Twenty-six different languages are spoken at Tusculum Elementary School. (WSMV)

There’s a small Metro elementary school off Nolensville Road that’s often overlooked because of the poor, immigrant families it serves.

Tusculum Elementary School is taking heat from the school district for “not meeting expectations” on state accountability tests.

But how can progress be measured when the student body speaks more than 20 different languages?

Portable classrooms have been the norm at Tusculum Elementary for more than two decades. Gravel is their playground.

Teacher Alexandra Economos calls it beautiful.

“I think this school is the most diverse, most culturally rich place here in Nashville,” Economos said.

The Nashville native and University of Tennessee graduate said don’t judge this book by its cover.

“The number one thing is compassion,” Economos said.

The fourth year teacher taught in Korea before coming to Tusculum. She knows how empathy and an emphasis on reading can rewrite lives.

“I’m from Africa, but my mom is from Congo,” said 9-year-old Bonite Tuyiringire.

“I had a best friend at Burma, but sometimes I think of them, I cry,” said 8-year-old Poe Htoo.

Bonite and Poe represent two of the 26 languages spoken at Tusculum.

“Been in the country, coming from refugee camps, never been in school in your life. You’re going into third grade, and in one year, you’re reading at the beginning of second grade. That’s amazing growth, and it’s because of explicit instruction in reading,” Principal Alison McMahan said of Bonite.

McMahan said small group reading, vocabulary building and setting goals as a class are helping catapult kids up the charts.

“She didn’t speak English at all,” Economos said.

The students have come a long way in a short amount of time.

“I love doing math and reading,” Bonite said.

“When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t even know what they were saying. And when I keep learning, I know how to speak English,” Poe said.

“We know that our kids are smart. We know that our kids are going to be great in the world one day. It’s up to us to find a way to bring it out in them,” McMahan said.

Tusculum Elementary School will move into a new, state-of-the-art building next door on Aug. 3.

Click here for more information on Tusculum Elementary School.

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