Kaylen Jiang, a first-grader at Dows Lane Elementary School, has been awarded the “Triple C” Award by the New York State Office of the Attorney General. She was recognized for her “courage, character, and commitment” for acting as a Mandarin Chinese translator for a classmate in Izabela Swiecka’s kindergarten class last year.
Dows Lane Principal Andrea Kantor presented the award at an outdoor ceremony held on Nov. 6, which was attended by family, friends, teachers, and district officials.
“Kaylen helped the new student whenever they were together during the day, at recess, in specials,” Kantor said. “She took the initiative to go above and beyond to make the new student feel welcomed and understood.”
According to Paul Manzi, an English as a New Language (ENL) teacher who co-taught in Swiecka’s kindergarten classroom, Kaylen’s family speaks Mandarin at home, and although she was able to speak English, she was an ENL student. “She had a high proficiency in Mandarin, and the other student was very limited in English,” Manzi said.
Since there may be several ENL students who speak different languages in one classroom, Irvington teachers customarily use Google Translate software to communicate with students via computer. The software “allows us to speak English, and it translates into Mandarin and vice versa,” Manzi explained.
But the computer only works when an adult is available to use it; when a teacher is instructing a whole class, using the translation software can be cumbersome. When that happens, a student who speaks no English can lose track of what’s happening.
Swiecka said that she and Manzi hoped Kaylen would interact with the boy, “but we didn’t have many expectations because Kaylen was a very shy little girl. She didn’t talk much to the other children. But she actually took on that initiative to reach out to her friend, just to take care of him — feeling for him, and being so empathetic and kind toward him. So we were so pleasantly surprised, because as she was helping him, she was helping herself be a more confident student.”
Kaylen made sure her classmate understood the teachers’ directions and that he was in the right place at the right time. “This gave him a sense of security and comfort,” Swiecka said. “That was like a base for us to use and work on toward his language skills.”
Manzi said the boy is progressing “beautifully” this year. “He’s not speaking like a native speaker yet,” he said. “But he’s having a very successful first grade.”