As head of the English as a Second Language Department for Livingston Parish Schools, Julie Jumper is always looking for ways to improve language skills in English for her younger, newer ESL students.

“And our numbers of ESL students have been growing,” Jumper said.

She’s not sure by how much, but the increase has been steady over the past few years.

When she overheard some high school teachers looking for service project ideas for the student clubs they advise, she thought she could help them while at the same time helping her own students.

The result has been a small, five-student pilot program that paired elementary school ESL students with high school mentors.

“We pull them out of class — many of our native Spanish speakers are actually taking Spanish classes, so we pull them out of Spanish and pair them with their mentor,” Jumper said.

The older students spent some time just getting to know their younger counterparts, then spent time reading to them, giving them study tips and answering questions they may have about school or living in a new country with a language they’re not familiar with.

“You know, these kids have to be quiet in class, they have to be quiet in the halls, they have to be quiet in the cafeteria, and what they most need to get more comfortable with the language is to talk,” Jumper said.

The older students, recruited from Jeri Frazier’s Anchor Club at Denham Springs High School, also serve as welcome, not-quite-adult, not-quite-kid role models and, often, just as friends.

The younger students have really responded to the program, Jumper said.

“We started small at first, to test the waters,” she said, adding that they chose DSHS and Northside Elementary because their physical campuses are close together, but she hopes to expand the program next year to accommodate more ESL students.

The experience also has been good for the older students, Frazier said.

“The DSHS Anchor Club is a service organization for students. It’s affiliated with the DSHS Pilot Club, an international organization for business and professional women.

“My club members are always eager to help out with school- and community-based projects, and we always approach each project with enthusiasm and a high level of professionalism. In short, we do great work, and so the Anchor Club is well-known as being a ‘go-to’ club when volunteers are needed here at DSHS,” Frazier said in an email to The Advocate.

“Therefore, when Mrs. Jumper came to me with this idea of matching up my club members with elementary students to help with improving their English language skills, we jumped on it. We started with a small group of volunteers at first, just to make sure any bugs get worked out, and it seems to be going great,” Frazier said. “My students have given me great reports, and Mrs. Jumper seems to be thrilled with how it’s working out.”