CARPENTERSVILLE – A funny thing happened when the other kids saw Eduardo Lopez Soriano skipping kickball for quizzes. They followed suit.
The 11-year-old was born in the U.S. but learned only minimal English growing up in a Spanish-speaking home. He moved to Mexico at age 6, and by the time he moved back to the States before the start of his fifth-grade year, most of the English he’d picked up had left him.
But Soriano came back determined. He’d take the Scholastic books home, read them at night before bed.
He started coming in at recess to take the quizzes associated with Scholastic’s System 44 program, a baseline program for beginner students to learn the phonetic sounds of the English language.
“He started from no English basically,” said Kelly Uehlein, Soriano’s bilingual teacher at Lakewood Elementary School. “He became kind of an inspiration and a role model for the others.
They started coming in at recess. And when he passed out of the System 44 program, it really motivated the others to get to where he is.”
Since Soriano became the first in his class to test out of the program, four others have followed behind him. They’re now in Scholastic’s Read 180 program, which helps students move on to greater use and comprehension of the language.
Soriano’s efforts have earned him national recognition. He was chosen as one of 12 Scholastic All-Stars for the gains he’s made within the English language.
Northwest Herald reporter Shawn Shinneman caught up with Soriano and Uehlein in a Lakewood classroom to talk about how the fifth-grader made learning a language look easy.
Video games also came up.
Shinneman: So how long have you been in the U.S., Eduardo?
Soriano: I was born here. But when I was 6 – I think so – I went to Mexico for four years. They teach me a little bit of English.
They didn’t know a lot, but they teach me a little bit. Then I came back here when I was 10. I didn’t know anything of English.
Shinneman: So what was it like coming back here? You’re around a lot of English speakers. Was it tough to get back in the groove and pick up the language at first?
Soriano: I guess. I came here and the teacher showed me a lot. Like the ‘s.’ I didn’t know how to say.
Shinneman [turning to Uehlein]: How have you seen him improve over the course of the year?
Uehlein: Well, he started this year back from Mexico. I know at the beginning, he was very shy about using his English and about participating in class.
And his grandma was very worried about his lack of English when he started with us.
When we would do the reading, he’d be in small group with me and I’d do Reading 101 with him, and he would say something wrong and I’d give him a skill, like a sound to work on, and he’d go home and practice.
He’d make it happen for himself. I’d be like, ‘Did you practice last night?’ He’d be like, ‘Yeah!’ He’d take the suggestions and really go with it.
And really, he just improved a lot because of his own motivation and wanting to be successful.
So with that gaining of the skills, then he was able to have more confidence.
And he started participating more in class, and giving more answers, and sharing more complex answers with his partner.
He’s just really exploded with his ability right now. So it’s amazing to watch him.
Shinneman: Are there other dual language kids in the class?
Uehlein: He’s with a class of bilingual students. ... Previously, he had taken a test and wasn’t able to be put into the bilingual.
He came back from Mexico with so little skills, they put him in there anyways with permission, so that he could get that support from us bilingual teachers.
Shinneman [to Soriano]: So at home, do you speak with your family in English?
Soriano: No, I speak in Spanish because my grandma doesn’t know English. So we have to speak Spanish.
Shinneman: Well I also want to learn a little about you. What do you like to do for fun?
Soriano: Play video games. ... Sometimes I like to read “Magic [Tree] House” books. I like them.
Shinneman: What kind of video games do you play?
Soriano: Street fighter. Soccer.
Shinneman: Do you know what you want to be when you get older?
Soriano: I want to be a dentist.
Uehlein: Why is that?
Soriano: I don’t know. I like it.