ESL at RJR; number one program, number two language

McKinley Bassett, Staff Writer

At RJ Reynolds High School, we have many students who live just around the block and have called Winston-Salem home since birth. However, RJR has one of the largest ESL programs. The ESL program is for students who are learning english as a second language. Our program started almost 50 years ago following the Vietnam War. 

“Our program is the oldest high school in Forsyth County,” Seth Beale, ESL teacher said.  

“We were the first program and when it started in the late 70s, early 80s, it was a program from Vietnamese refugees who came after the Vietnam war.”     Over the years, the program has grown and changed. The program has expanded the opportunities for the students; the places the students are coming from has shifted as well.

“When the program first started it was 100% [people from asia], they were all vietnamese students. And then, in the late 90s and early 2000s, it became predominantly hispanic, latino.” Beale said. “Now we’re starting to see, we have more students from Asia, the Middle East, especially from Africa, so we’re starting to see more students from Africa.”    

The students enter the ESL program by taking a survey and choosing something other than english as their first language. Then, they take a test and based on their scores, they are placed in certain levels of the program. While many students enter the program at the beginning of the school year, there are 10-15 students who come throughout the school year. This is because they may be refugees who have had to pick up and leave their home country as soon as they get the chance. 

Due to RJ Reynolds’ location, and being in such close proximity to the hospital and the various housing options in the district, there have a very diverse ESL program. 

For many of the students who enter the program, some of the things that are considered common in American households are completely new to them.

“Some of the refugees are coming from places where they don’t have microwaves or they’ve never ridden in a car. People are confused about using a microwave, using an oven, just having running water that we can drink,” Beale said. 

Students and service clubs help to introduce the new students into the school and help them with school work. RJR has had many students help with tutoring the ESL students during lunch as well as before and after school. 

Here at Reynolds, the ESL team is comprised of Mr. Beale and Mrs. Jolly who have been working together since 2003. 

“It’s a really neat program. We feel like we’ve been able to provide a lot of support for students. We’re very lucky that the staff and administration is here at Reynolds is very helpful with our students,” Beale said.