When English is a Second Language

Mariam Moussa and her two kidsMariam Moussa is an immigrant and mother of two who moved to Cleveland from Egypt. Her oldest child, a son, Kirollos is in third grade and the youngest, Karin, is a second grader. When the Moussas moved to Cleveland, the family didn’t speak or read English. Kirollos was entering kindergarten and Karin was young enough to start incorporating the English language in her speech.

The Journey to CLE

The Moussas moved to Cleveland the summer before Kirollos was to enter kindergarten. Navigating a new community and language barriers, Mariam used an interpreter to get him registered for school and also to get involved in language classes at church as well as programs and services offered in the community.

As a kindergarten student, Kirollos was doing well. His teachers reported he was keeping up with lessons and learning English and other skills at the rate of his peers. However, when summer came around, Mariam had a tough decision to make. Working with his teacher, she decided Kirollos should repeat kindergarten. Although he was doing OK, she wanted him to have a strong foundation, especially with regard to reading, before he advanced through elementary school.

The Learning Zone

Research shows reading 20 minutes per day with your child can help with their literacy skills. And at home, Mariam has her kids read to her; they choose their favorite books and even stories from the Bible.

“But what has been most helpful is the Learning Zone,” she said.

Salvation Army Learning Zone

To supplement the lessons Kirollos learned in school, Mariam signed him up for the Salvation Army’s Learning Zone. The Learning Zone is a United Way-funded program that provides meaningful after-school activities and intervention to support academic, emotional, social and spiritual growth for children and their families. This program uses a variety of tactics to ensure academic success such as flashcards, informal literacy tests and games.

Andrew Katusin is the education program associate at United Way of Greater Cleveland and says to be successful in school, children must be able to read to coincide with what they’re being taught. It’s important for kids to read at grade level in order to learn, process and retain content in their classes. Reading is the foundation for all future learning, he said.

Mariam thanks the Learning Zone for helping both Kirollos and now Karin to read at grade level. She says the Learning Zone makes literacy fun and her children are encouraged to read. Kirollos says the Learning Zone teaches him a lot and helps him feel smarter and ready for the next grade.

In eight years, Tanesha Acevedo, a Learning Zone program director, has worked with more than 100 families and tears up as she tells Kirollos’ story. She said each family’s need is different, but Kirollos required a lot of help due to the language barrier. Within a year, she witnessed Kirollos improve greatly.

“It’s a huge success story,” Tanesha said. “Kirollos would watch other kids and mimic how they spoke and it helped him to learn English.”

The Literacy Journey Continues

Moussa's children having fun

Today, Kirollos is a third grader who does extremely well in school and consistently makes the honor roll! At the Learning Zone, Kirollos maintains championship status in the 100 Book Challenge. Thirty-two students participate in a challenge to read 100 or more books of their choosing.

Mariam’s daughter, Karin, is a second grader who also makes honor roll. Mariam credits Kirollos for helping Karin and both kids for helping mom with English. “As an immigrant, I was not able to read or speak English and now my children are at a place where they can help me understand the English language; now they are my interpreter,” she said.

If you’re a parent in need of resources to help your child read, please visit our website or call United Way 2-1-1.

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s literacy campaign provides tips and advice for local parents with the goal of helping to advance their child’s grade-level reading skills. Funding for the literacy campaign was provided by Red Nose Day USA – a $23 million campaign to address children’s issues in the United States and 14 other countries.

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