Bilingual Community Service Learning to meet virtually with elementary kids

When senior Haylie Aguilar was in her fourth-grade math class, her math teacher inspired her to pursue a career in teaching. Now she is working towards that goal through Bilingual Community Service Learning (BCSL).

BCSL was created three years ago. Aguilar, along with 39 other Spanish and Marshallese speakers, will help elementary kids with their native language by meeting with them virtually. According to, children who grow up learning more than one language increase their brainpower and get an academic advantage by picking up subjects faster than children who only speak one language. For this reason, it is important for bilingual children to maintain their heritage language as they get older.

One of the BCSL teachers, Ellen Rainey, has been working diligently to overcome COVID-19 restriction obstacles. 

“Ideally, we will work with elementary kids via Zoom,” Rainey said. “We are basically starting from scratch because that is an entirely different thing.”

In past years, students would travel to elementary schools before school or during seventh-period to meet face-to-face with younger kids. Once with the kids, BCSL students would teach Spanish or Marshallese lessons they created within their groups in class.

“We do a quick version of literacy,” Rainey said. “We want them to be able to read.”

Possible lessons include vowels, basic vocabulary such as numbers, colors, and places. As a Spanish speaker, Aguilar is a two-year BCSL student.

“We usually read books to them in our heritage language,” Aguilar said. “Some of the games we play are lotería or Uno. We sometimes color and try to incorporate Spanish words.”

Since BCSL will not be able to hold in-person meetings, planning for the class has been difficult. Setting up days, times, and participants with elementary administrations, parents, and students are taking awhile. Elementary schools will have to be able to provide supervisors to monitor the time spent together with the kids.

“We really want to be able to do something second quarter,” Rainey said. “On our side of town, the highest population of language learners are Elmdale, T.G. Smith, and Tyson Elementary. Those are always my targets just because we have more of the Marshallese and Hispanic learners there.”

According to the BCSL teacher, Michael Spencer, in addition to reading children’s books, BCSL students also keep up with a blog to track their progress in the classroom. 

“Students keep track of their experience by posting online on their own blog,” Spencer said. “[They post] things like book reviews, reflections, and other reports about the services that we do.”

In case BCSL students are unable to meet with elementary kids virtually, they must have a backup plan where they can apply their bilingual skills to other community service activities. For example, inspirational messages written with chalk gives students one community service hour.

“We also try to come up with other ways we can do community service besides just reading books with kids since we aren’t sure how well is going to work,” Spencer said. “We’ve done Chalk Art.”

Until further plans are approved, BCSL will keep preparing for the day they meet their new friends.

“I am grateful Har-Ber provides a class like this,” Aguilar said. “It’s the only class that works with little kids.”