Delta’s Ukrainian expats enroll in schools, English-language classes
Youths ‘absolutely elated’ to get library cards, books
Hundreds of Ukrainians who came to Alaska after Russia invaded their country six months ago are settling-in to their new home away from home. Many of the expatriates came to stay with family in Delta Junction, where they’re enrolling their kids in schools and getting help learning the English language.
Twenty-nine students from Ukraine began classes last week in the Delta-Greely School District, which hired a full-time Slavic-speaking staff member to help them out with their classwork.
“We recognized the need early-on,” says district Superintendent Shaun Streyle. “We added another position, and we’re thankful we did.”
Streyle says fellow students also are helping the newcomers learn the language -- including those from Ukrainian-immigrant families that began arriving in Delta in the 1990s.
“We have young students, even, kind of helping with translating things and supporting their classmates with the language barriers that they experience,” he said. “So, it’s working well.”
Streyle says the students range in grade level from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and they vary in their ability to communicate in English. Some have no experience with the language, and a few are fairly fluent. Those will little English proficiency attend classes with other students in the morning, then spend the afternoon with the Slavic-speaking instructor. He says those with the greatest proficiency are the easiest to “mainstream” into classes, along with the local students.
“We do have a couple of high school students that are mainstreamed all day long, because they’re capable of handling the content and the language,” Streyle said.
An instructor with the Literacy Council of Alaska says she encounters that same range of English proficiency among the growing group of Ukrainian adults that she’s working with.
“Right now we have about 26 enrolled, and we have more families coming in,” says Jill Prestegard, a volunteer language instructor with the Fairbanks-based Literacy Council.
“It’s teaching English skills to adults to prepare them for either work or to transition into the community,” she said.
Jennifer Wei, the Adult Education/ELL Director for the Literacy Council, says the organization also provides English-language instruction to Ukrainian expatriates in Fairbanks.
Prestegard conducts English-language classes twice a week at a church near Delta Junction where many members of the local Slavic community worship. But last week, the class took a field trip to the Delta Community Library.
“They brought their children -- we had a large group,” she said. “It was just really a great evening.”
Library Director Tiki Levinson agrees.
“This was an effort to get them to know what resources we have and to feel comfortable in the library,” she said.
Levinson says the field trip also helped her figure out what kinds of materials the library needs to accommodate the newcomers. Like Russian-language books that many in the group asked for, because most of them also speak that language.
She says the best part of the evening was when she gave out library cards.
“It was very exciting to be able to hand them that library card, and to just know the power of the resources that they could be able to access with that card,” she said.
Levinson said she was especially gratified to give a Russian-English dictionary to a young girl who wanted to understand what the kids at school were saying, so she join the conversation.
“When I gave her the Russian language dictionary, she just hugged it to her chest and she looked absolutely elated!”
Levinson says the new library patrons are starting to show up more often at the library. And she’s says she’s working hard to increase the library’s collection with the books and materials that they’re asking for.