Every summer since 2010, high school and college students from Taipei take the train down to Taitung to volunteer at the Huatung English Camp. The familiar journey is filled with enthusiasm to bring new inspiration to the remote region. Schools in Huatung’s remote are short of English teachers and learning materials. After ten years of conducting the Huatung English Camp, The Alliance Cultural Foundation (ACF) learned that the annual camps were not enough to sustain children’s learning enthusiasm. In 2019, under the proposal of ACF Advisor and Huatung English Camp volunteer Debra Lin, ACF launched the Huatung English Reading Program, an online program that supports Huatung children’s English learning journey long-term through one-on-one volunteer coaching.
Introducing Reading A-Z
Designed by engineers and child psychologists, with more than 1,000 audiobooks, Reading A-Z (RAZ) the online reading program has been used by Lin’s education company, BigByte Education, for many years with great effects. Every book therein has lively colors, interactive materials, and precise pronunciation by native speakers. Through the visual and audio connections between words and things, as well as listening and repeating after the instructor, these books have proven to improve children’s pronunciation accuracy. The effectiveness of the program is enhanced by the volunteer reading coach. Reading coaches are the key success factors of the Huatung English Reading Program where coaches read virtually with children once a month.
In each encounter, reading coaches carefully consider what the children need and how they can improve the quality of the time together. Reading coaches learn to be observers and leaders. Their words of encouragement help build confidence and motivation, and their monthly reports provide school teachers an understanding of students’ growth learning online.
Taitung County Taoyuan Elementary School
Reflecting on the early stages of introducing RAZ to the Taitung County Taoyuan Elementary School, Director Ming Zhi Hu questioned whether students can truly learn English from only listening and reading.
English class was held twice a week. Once the campus bell rings, children race back into the classroom to line up for their tablets and ear phones to begin their RAZ learning. With a vast sea of thousands of books, children curiously select books like choosing a present. Teachers walk patiently responding to each raised hand and further help students with problems and pronunciation. They encourage students who are afraid to speak English to keep trying, they listen to student’s needs, give them confidence and affirmation.
December of 2020, Lin brought reading coaches to Taitung County Taoyuan Elementary School to host a two-day Spelling Bee. Reading coaches, many whom were volunteers of the Huatung English Camp, looked forward to meeting the students after coaching them virtually for six months.
By the playground, around 80 wood stools are placed on the lawn. In the front, a stage is made from longitudinal wood pieces. In the corridor behind the stage, there are posters with vocabulary, presents prepared by teachers, and layers of contest prizes shipped from Lin.
One volunteer who was former volunteer of two Huatung English Camp expressed “Every student on stage is a star, and all the audience applauds for her/him. Some are shy, some are naughty, and some are like natural born athletes praying for victory.”
After the winners were announced, contestants, teachers, students, and volunteers applauded and cheered. Though there were only 80 some students, the applause sounded like thousands; and behind the applause was two semesters of hard work.
When contestants on stage think hard to spell the words accurately, the audience showed nervousness with some even more nervous than the contestants, they excitedly mouth the words. The moment the words are spelt correctly, the audience would cheer loudly.
All questions were answered before a winner could be identified. Not only were the contestants on stage surprised, but teachers and volunteers were impressed by their exceptional performance. Only when we believe in children’s capabilities, can they change.
Before the Director Hu presented prizes to the winners, he would ask for the winner’s partners and would applaud enthusiastically. In order to involve all students in contest, teachers grouped them in teams of two. Each team reviewed vocabulary together and supported each other in the contest. To the teachers, winning the contest was not the most important goal, but rather the steady, hard work the students took towards the goal.
The confidence shown in the contestant’s eyes propelled Lin to run a spelling bee in Taitung and another again at the Taitung County Taoyuan Elementary School. Through the spelling bee, Lin hopes students learn the power of “I can”, and that confidence will empower them to face future challenges in their study and life.
Due to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Taiwan, the spelling bee in Taitung and the Taitung County Taoyuan Elementary School was cancelled.
The Pastor and wife from Chenggong Church who were supporters of the Huatung English Reading Program continued the reading with coaches twice a month to keep the children at the church's learning ongoing. They worked hard to resolve students’ hardware and internet issues. Originally the volunteer team planned to complete their volunteering by the end of June. 12 volunteers continued to support summer learning in small groups with each coaching four to six children with similar English proficiency.
They will read English books together and continue their interactions during the pandemic. They insist on using accompaniment to overcome the pandemic. This enthusiastic dedication predicts more and greater potential in the next stage.
2021, ACF is passing the knowledge of the Huatung Reading Program project experience on to Chengzhi Education Foundation who is the founder of six schools in the Taiwanese KIST school system. ACF plans to expand to KIST schools and hopes to witness more life changes.
Original article written in Chinese by Ting, Yu Hsuan (English translation by Wu, Ai-Chu)
Photographer: Hsu, Yin Shan
Cinematographer: Wang, Min
Editor: Chu, Yenlin