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Grassroots Wisdom Book

Bergman Elementary Teacher Helps Connect Students through Languages

Throughout the hallways of Bergman Elementary School are signs pointing to familiar places — a nurse’s office, a cafeteria — using words in a cluster of different languages. The signs sprang from an idea by Mariah Brinkman, a math interventionist teacher at the school.

Before Brinkman began teaching at the school in the fall of 2020, she placed a welcome sign outside of her door in multiple languages. She was about to teach second grade, which she’d do during her first two years at Bergman before becoming a math interventionist teacher this year.

“I chose mostly languages that I knew were here in Bergman, but I also chose (other) languages I just wanted to represent,” she said, noting that some might have been spoken at Bergman Elementary in the past. Source: The Mercury, Manhattan, Kansas

Brinkman said the sign project began to blossom as she met with Cynthia Kirchner, a math intervention specialist, and Jodi Leisy, a second-grade teacher, during the summer of 2021, after her first year of teaching. She said the three would practice Spanish — a language in which Brinkman is proficient.

“When we were doing that, they had the idea of taking that small welcome banner (outside Brinkman’s classroom) and putting up a big banner at the front of the school,” she said.

Soon after that, teachers and staff members — part of a school cultural committee — decided to move to the next level and create about a dozen small signs. They hung outside the library, outside of restrooms, and next to other well-populated school spots, all inscribed with the multiple languages spoken by the student body. Brinkman said she used to help design the posters, and she tapped the expertise of many teachers and staff members at the school to help hone words from the various languages.

She said teachers also came up with a plan to create bookmarks with key phrases in Spanish. That’s the most prevalent, outside of English, of the approximately 20 languages spoken among the 342 students at the school.

Overall, USD 383 says it has over 70 countries represented and 40 languages spoken by its students.

Brinkman reflected on the whole endeavor of celebrating a panoply of languages. “When I first started teaching, I noticed that sometimes kids who spoke another language would almost feel it was embarrassing,” she said. “I would try to remind them that being bilingual is amazing. Being bilingual is a super-power. It’s so good for you, and it will help you get jobs in the future... It’s something I want them to be proud of and realize is really special.”



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