Cranberry Twp. class helps foreign children learn English before first grade
Paula Dutt says her young students are at the best age for learning English.
“Kids from the age of 2 to 8 are really the best learners of any language,” said Dutt, who teaches English to as many as seven children at the Cranberry Municipal Building every week.
The classes are for preschool students, ages 4 and 5, and are sponsored by the township's department of parks and recreation. Most of the students are in the United States because their parents live in the Cranberry area and work at large multinational companies there such as Westinghouse, which employs 4,300.
“Many kids in this situation know no English until first grade. Then they are just thrown into it,” she said.
Once foreign students are in school, they can enroll in English as a Second Language classes, Dutt said. But there are few opportunities like these classes for preschool students to learn English, she said.
“These classes are very helpful,” said Raju Kurapati, whose 5-year-old son, Abhinav Kurapati, is a student in the class. “This will give him a better start in school.”
The elder Kurapati, who is from Hyderabad, India, lives in Cranberry and is an engineer with Westinghouse. Most of Dutt's students are from Japan. She has also taught children from France and Ecuador.
Kanae Ohta of Adams, originally from Japan and mother of 4-year-old Haru, said her son “likes it here, the classes. He is learning English and making friends.”
Ohta, whose husband works at Westinghouse, is also one of Dutt's students. She tutors many of her students' parents in English, as well.
Most of the adults who come to the area for work stay for two to five years, Dutt said.
Dutt, a Wisconsin native who once taught English in Japan, started the classes last year with the support of the township.
“We are a growing community. We are attracting different people from different cultures,” said Jason Mentel, facilities and program coordinator for the township's parks and recreation department.
Cranberry's population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2010, from 14,816 to 28,098. Though the township remains overwhelmingly white, the number of Asians and Hispanics more than doubled from 2000 to 2010.
Dutt's teaching style is energetic. She uses computers and games like Twister and Candy Land to build her students' English skills.
The current round of classes started in early February and run through late March. Each session is 45 minutes.
“That's about the amount of time that anyone can hold their attention,” Dutt said of her young students.
Dutt, who moved to Cranberry six years ago, is somewhat of an ambassador for the region and its events.
“I try to get people involved in the community,” she said. “There are all kinds of things going on here, from the Three Rivers Arts Festival to sporting events and interesting restaurants. Many times, people who move here from outside of the country can stay isolated.”