South Philadelphia: English Language Learners

Brothers Ricky and Roy Lin played while they waited for principal Ralph Burnley to begin the night's events.
Eileen Sheppard and Xiumei Jing met through the Philadelphia Chinese congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Northeast Philadelphia.

On back-to-school night last Wednesday, Xiumei Jing entered the lobby of George W. Nebinger School with a small entourage. Flanked on one side by sons Ricky and Roy Lin, a trusty confidante spoke in Chinese to Jing as she perused parent brochures and made her way to the auditorium.

Though Jing came to the United States in 2004 and she speaks English, her friend Eileen Sheppard came along as a back-up translator. Jing and Sheppard met at Philadelphia’s only Chinese-speaking congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Northeast.

After giving birth to her sons in the U.S., Jing sent Ricky and Roy to live in China, where Ricky attended preschool. The two boys came back to the U.S. this past year, and their English is extremely limited.

Ricky and Roy Lin only moved to the United States this past year to live with their parents and attend school.

In kindergarten at Nebinger, Ricky is a portion of the 7.8 percent of students at the school who are English Language Learners.

Because his teacher only speaks English, Ricky takes cues from his instructor’s body language and other students’ actions in class to figure out what to do and how to act, Sheppard explained for Jing.

“At home, I teach him very simple words, but I think he doesn’t understand,” Jing said of Ricky. “He needs to go to school to learn more. It’s good for him.”

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