English as a New Language: J-DHS Edition


Olivia Byrnes

Every year, Jamesville-DeWitt High School seniors are required to do 15 hours of volunteer work as a requirement for their Participation in Government course. Typically, seniors would have to find a place to volunteer outside of school. However, this year’s seniors found a new opportunity within the walls of J-DHS.

A few J-D seniors have spent their time volunteering in the English as a New Language (ENL) classroom, working with students who are learning English while working toward their high school diploma. According to J-DHS Participation in Government teacher Donna Oppedisano, the idea began with a discussion with Lydia Schooler, the J-DHS senior who helped connect J-D students with a local refugee organization, Hopeprint. “We talked about that there are actually kids here, who are English language learners, who are immigrants and refugee students. [Lydia] recommended that we offer the option to work with these students as volunteer work,” said Oppedisano.

A few students started volunteering, fulfilling just a few hours as a trial for the idea. After those first few students completed their time, Mrs. Oppedisano and Lydia Schooler met with ENL teacher Lori Dotterer to see how things had gone. Mrs. Dotterer believes that the students who volunteered in the program benefited from the experience as much as the students in the classes that they worked 1-on-1 with.

Senior Eric Antosh spent his study halls in Mrs. Dotterer’s room and helped the students with their homework and classwork that they struggled to understand. Adding to that, senior Tommy Bonaccio said that beyond the academic help, the students bonded socially. “It’s exciting for me to see my students waving to these ‘cool’ seniors as they pass each other in the halls,” said Mrs. Dotterer. Senior Benny Wilson, who was at first nervous about joining the program, said, “it was very enlightening, I got to speak with kids who don't speak english, which is really hard, but they actually taught me alot.”

Besides working in the classroom, the group played soccer games and watched movies together. Senior Ben Picone said that playing soccer with the kids was the best part. “Soccer was a language that we all had in common so it was fun to get competitive and play together,” said Picone.

“I wanted to connect with the J-D community and thought this would be a great opportunity to do that,” said Wilson.

Mrs. Dotterer has been teaching as the J-DHS ENL teacher for the past two years, but next year is going on to explore something new, as the permanent J-DHS ENL teacher is returning from maternity leave. With the success of this year’s test run, Mrs. Oppedisano and Mrs. Dotterer hope for the program to continue in years to come.