MISSOULA - Missoula has welcomed refugee families from many different countries in recent years.
While Montana might feel like a long way from home for incoming refugees, there is a local teacher who spends her days trying to make young students comfortable in their new homes.
This week's One Class at a Time winner is Elizabeth Fullerton — Ms. Liz. She's a well-traveled and well-spoken English language learner tutor for Missoula County Public Schools. She speaks Spanish, Russian, a bit of Turkish, and more.
“I also decided to study Arabic because I was really interested in it. And then after college, I had an opportunity to volunteer teaching English in Tajikistan, I worked in a language school that was actually for Afghans and then after that, I was in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan.“
With refugee families continuing to find a home in Montana, the need for English language tutors grew in schools. Ms. Liz works with elementary-age students, who are both starting and developing their language skills.
“A lot of times when young students come to the United States and they start learning English, they start to lose their first language which makes it really hard for them to learn to communicate with family and friends who are still back in the first country," explained Ms. Liz. "And that is really a very sad thing.”
To encourage the learning of both English and a native tongue, Ms. Liz will use her $250 One Class at a Time grant to buy academic materials, like workbooks and books to read from in her student’s first languages.
“But if I can get some materials and books in these first languages that moms and dads can read with their children, that literacy support in the first language will definitely support literacy development in English," Fullerton shared.
Based on all of her travels and studies, Ms. Liz has seen some amazing things. However, she feels it's her students who are amazing.
“I think that they’re going to be able to do amazing things, and I want them to walk away from [my classroom] thinking that they can do amazing things.”
In whatever language necessary, Ms. Liz is supporting our new Montanans and their families one class at a time.