FARMINGTON — Students from Hong Kong gathered around tables on a recent morning at the University of Maine at Farmington to work on writing their own versions of traditional children’s stories with a Maine flavor.

Talk of whoopie pies, blueberries, lobster and trips to Acadia National Park animated the discussion as one group worked to re-write the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

The activity — part of a daily 3.5-hour English-language lesson — was meant to help students use the language skills they’ve learned to talk about their real life experiences during a two-week trip to Maine.

It was also a learning experience for the UMF students, teaching them how to work with Maine’s growing population of English-language learners.

“What’s special about this program is you’re not teaching English in an isolated way,” said Kathryn Will-Dubyak, an assistant professor of literacy education. “It’s very contextually based, so it’s much more meaningful, and (the students’) ability to remember and use what they’ve learned is stronger.”

This is the first year UMF has partnered with HKMA David Li Kwok Po College in Hong Kong to bring about 20 eighth- and ninth-grade students from the school to UMF for a two-week English immersion program.


Tracy Cheung, one of the Hong Kong school’s two principals, said the trip to Maine is the first time the school has sent students to the United States, though in the past they have traveled to the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

A majority of people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese, but English is also recognized as one of the country’s two official languages, and instruction at the school is mostly in English.

Cheung said she wanted her students to travel to a place where they could speak English in daily life and learn the vocabulary of native English speakers.

At UMF, the students have spent half the day in the classroom and the rest of their time on excursions. They picked blueberries, ate lobster and camped and hiked in Acadia National Park.

They attended the Wilton Blueberry Festival and the Maine Lobster Festival and visited a local farm, Sandy River Farm.

“It’s different from Hong Kong,” Cheung said. “Maine is like forests, trees, a lot of nature. Our kids got to explore a lot here and the program is very good. It integrates the activities the students do in the afternoon (with what they are learning).”


Carol Lee, UMF professor of elementary education, and Linda Beck, a professor of political science and director of global education, created the program with both the international visiting students and UMF students in mind, according to the university.

In Will-Dubyak’s classroom, a pile of poster boards filled with the leaves of Maine trees and their identifications is one example of how she said UMF students have worked to bring real-life experiences to English-language learners, or ELL students. Daily trips to Acadia and to go blueberry picking won’t be feasible in a traditional classroom, but projects that bring real life experiences to ELL students are, she said.

A requirement of UMF’s certificate in ELL instruction is that students must complete an internship in a school or classroom with a significant population of ELL learners. To meet that, Will-Dubyak said most UMF students traditionally have traveled to Auburn, though the new program will allow them to complete that aspect of their internship on campus.

“What these pre-service teachers are learning is you need those concrete experiences to make it meaningful,” she said. “You can’t just have isolated English instruction. You need to connect it to the other components of the curriculum; that’s the most important thing.”

Paige Carter, a special education major who also is pursuing an ELL certificate, said she hopes to return home to South Portland after graduating.

“I want to be more prepared for a diverse classroom in the future,” she said. “For ELL students, that goes beyond the classroom and more into their background and where they’re from. That’s a major part of their education, and I want to be able to help with that in any way I can.”


For the students from Hong Kong in her summer classroom, there were lots of new words and experiences to describe and compare to home.

Fourteen-year-old Raymond Ng said Hong Kong is much hotter in the summer and more crowded.

How was the experience in Maine?

“It was really blueberryish,” he said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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