Krisol Solis: From ESL Parent to Dual Language Teacher
Groesbeck ISD works hard to make sure that students’ needs are put first, and sometimes that compassion for a child can have an even greater effect on a parent. When Krisol Solis brought her daughter Adela to Groesbeck ISD as a Pre-K student in 2013, neither of them could speak English and the future seemed uncertain.
Now, less than a decade later, the fully bilingual Adela is a National Junior Honor Society member starting 8th grade in the fall, and her mother is a college graduate who is preparing to begin her career as a dual-language 1st-grade teacher for Dean Highland Elementary in Waco.
Despite a once comfortable life in Mexico, Solis and her family moved to Texas to escape kidnapping threats and potential problems that resulted from political family ties, and the transition was only made more difficult by the fact that no one in the family was fluent in English.
Finding a good prekindergarten program where Adela could learn, grow and thrive was a top priority for Solis and wasn’t a decision she made hastily.
“We went to Riesel, Mart, Waco, several schools in the area but some said no, and some I didn’t like or they cost a lot of money. When we got to Groesbeck, we didn’t have any hope at all but they were so nice with us and they processed the application the same day.”
English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are common in Texas schools, and play a huge role in helping English learners (ELs) understand the language so they can have a smoother educational experience for their primary schooling and beyond. Solis found many allies in the ESL program at GISD, most notably Mrs. Robin Cable and Mrs. Joetta Grusendorf, AKA Mrs. G.
“My daughter was excited to go to school, but she was crying because of the frustration of being unable to communicate with everyone and I wasn’t able to either. Mrs. G allowed me to go every Friday once a week and stay the whole day with my daughter and kind of help her. In the beginning, she was communicating just with gestures and face signals, and things like that, but she adapted.”
Looking back, Solis remembers feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at the difficulty she faced in acclimating to a country where she couldn’t communicate and knew she had to learn English with and for Adela. Wasting no time, Solis enrolled in the English Language Institute at Texas A&M to learn English with fellow international students while her daughter learned in Pre-K. While taking on this challenge, Solis was grateful to have help from “mother hen” teachers like Mrs. Cable, who helped fill in the gaps and take care of Adela when she had long days on the A&M campus. Despite her desire to give up in the beginning, Solis completed the English Language Institute and earned an “Outstanding Student” award while there.
By third grade, Adela had proven herself proficient in English and exited the ESL program. Meanwhile, mom Villa Solis was taking classes at MCC and then went on to Tarleton State University’s College of Education, where she felt the most support in her collegiate journey.
“The people there are awesome, they really embrace cultural differences and guide you through the process. They recognize your performance and always reach out to support or help you.”
Indeed, the hard work Solis did caught the attention of many potential employers, allowing her to choose a position that perfectly lines up with her goals of helping children understand English, but also maintain proficiency in their first language.
“I got a lot of job offers from schools in the area, but the one that I accepted is for a dual-language program, and I chose it because we can preserve our language and that is something that I want to encourage. I did my clinical teaching in a bilingual classroom, but it is an early exit classroom and I don’t think it’s fair for the kids when they don’t understand, it’s hard and frustrating for them,” Solis said. “This will be a 50/50 class, with some subjects taught one day in Spanish, and then the same subject is taught in English on another day so they become bilingual and proficient.”
According to GISD ESL Coordinator Holly Black, the district doesn’t have a large enough student population or sufficient bilingually certified teachers to consider offering a dual language program at this time. The number of students who took advantage of ESL support last year totaled just over 100 students, with a majority of ELs in grades Pre-K through 6th. Black does see room for improvement in the ESL program and hopes to connect those dots with the coming school year.
“I have requested the need for a bilingual aide that can read, write, and speak Spanish. I feel like I could use their expertise to communicate with parents and students, plus translate documentation faster than trying to Google translate it or find someone to proofread what I have created. I am ready to have Family Engagement evenings next year now that COVID restrictions are going away.”
Though Solis is beyond proud of the progress her daughter (as well as her cattleman husband and her son, Rafael who will be starting 5th grade in the fall) have made in mastering the English language, she encourages only Spanish to be used at home. Occasionally English comes out when one of them is learning something new, but Solis is big on practicing what she preaches- the importance of preserving and honoring their native language balanced with proficiency in the language of the land. As an official, bilingual teacher, Solis knows that sometimes you learn best when you’re challenged.
“There was a kid who came from El Salvador and he couldn’t speak a word of English, and he looked so frustrated. He would say ‘Miss Solis, no puedo entender, me puedes explicar en Espanol?’ and my teacher would say “No, he needs to learn English!” but he couldn’t do the assignment or anything because he couldn’t understand. That’s not fair. In my class, it will be 50/50, English and Spanish.”
- Krisol Solis on learning from her clinical teaching experience