Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Oranges.

Over thirty years ago I went to Jerusalem during late November and at this time of year it is always the place I think of.  Attached to this is memory is the smell and taste of ripe bright oranges and clementines and their beautiful green leaves.  I always buy Orange and clementines at this time of the year with leaves on as a reminder of my visit to Jesus’s birth place.

What did strike me was how closely all the different religious groups live together. At the time the most popular sales for us tourists were nativity sets (I still have mine and put it out every 13th December to 6th January) made of olive wood from the Mount of Olives.

Bethlehem is the town where Jesus Christ is said to have been born. I visited the place which is marked as his birth place and remember my surprise at how small the entrance to the church was.

Find out more about Bethlehem below.

Here, Christmas Day is observed not  on a particular day. Bethlehem consists of people of different Christian  denominations – Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodoxes, Ethiopians, Armenians and more. While Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas Day on  December 25, Greek, Syrian and other Orthodox Christians observe it on 6th January. For Armenian  Christians, Christmas Day is on January 18. Hence, Bethlehem witnesses longer Christmas celebrations than many other  places.

In Bethlehem, Roman Catholic services begin on December 24 and take place in  St. Catherine’s Church , a Catholic church adjacent to the Orthodox Basilica of  the Nativity. Protestants hold their services in a different way. While some of  them may attend special Christmas services in their local churches, others may  arrange excursions for special services in the Shepherd’s Fields or the Church  of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Some of the popular Jerusalem chuches such as The  Anglican Cathedral of St. George, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the  YMCA organize travel to Bethlehem for  Christmas Eve celebrations. Orthodox Christians(Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox,  Coptic Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox and others) celebrate the birth of Jesus by taking out numerous religious  processions and holding special services mainly at the Basilica of the Nativity.  Most Armenian Christmas services are also held in the Basilica, albeit a little  later, on January 18. The Christmas processions usually pass through Manger Square, believed to be situated on the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

The general Christmas traditions in Bethlehem are similar  to the Europeans and North American customs observed during the festival. From a few  days before 25th December, the town is decorated with flags and other items of adornment. Streets  are strung with Christmas lights. A Christmas market comes up and Christmas plays  are performed. A cross is painted on the doors of every Christian home and Nativity scenes are displayed in every  household.

On Christmas Eve, annual Christmas processions are taken out. Residents of  the town as well as tourists crowd the doorways and the roof of the Basilica to  get a view of the parade. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian  horses lead the procession. The procession is led by galloping horsemen and  police mounted over Arabian horses; followed by a man riding over a black steed  and carrying a cross. After him comes the churchmen and government officials.  The procession quitely enters the doors and puts an ancient effigy of the Holy  Child in the Church. The visitors are then taken through deep winding stairs  leading to a grotto where a silver star marks the site of the birth of  Jesus.

With thanks to

I’m a strong believer of having the kids maintain their first language “I witnessed [my children’s] learning curve and process.… I knew how their experience was with ESOL,” she said. “I think that I knew how to help the kids be successful.”

This is one parents view of how her children learnt English and the subsequent experiences of using these experiences to become an ESOL teacher.  Really interesting are her views that are not dissimilar to many parents but also her view of the types of bilingual education and that every teacher should be an ESOL teacher.

Find it at

When Yu-Ying Huang emigrated from Taiwan in 1989 with her two children, then 7 and 10, she saw firsthand what it was like for students from other lands to learn English, inspiring her career to teach English as a second language.

She’s been teaching ESOL at secondary schools for 12 years, currently at Northwest High School in Silver Spring, Md., part of the Montgomery County Public School system. MCPS arguably touts the most diverse student body in Maryland

“I witnessed [my children’s] learning curve and process.… I knew how their experience was with ESOL,” she said. “I think that I knew how to help the kids be successful.”.

An MCPS student has about a 7-in-10 chance of running into another student of a different race or ethnicity, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Like other school districts across America, MCPS’s diversity is its best asset – but also its biggest challenge.

Resources are tight; budget shortfalls grow more limiting at the same time that diversity grows. Across the nation, educators are expected to shape the minds of more than 49 million kids in an environment where nearly one in five speaks another language at home.

“For us it’s always looking for creative ways to bridge the linguistic divide and to be able to serve students who speak so many different languages,” said Karen Woodson, director for the Division of ESOL/Bilingual Programs.

About a third of the student body identifies as non-Hispanic white; the other two-thirds identify as students of color. Of the more than 146,000 students, 13.1 percent are English speakers of another language. Together, the student body represents 160 countries and 130 languages.

For Huang, the biggest challenge has been to find ways to bridge the culture gap between herself and her students.

It can be a “daily struggle” to find the balance between allowing students to help one another in their native tongue while encouraging social interactions in English, she said. But seeing them making progress makes the effort worth it.

Huang, who speaks fluent Chinese and also Spanish and French, recalled a presentation by students in a Level 4 class, the second-most advanced ESOL tier. Some were students she had taught years before when they couldn’t speak a word of English.

“I was almost crying, because I could see how much progress they had made,” she said, later adding, “I just see that if a kid can put in effort … they can still be successful.”

While students with less English proficiency are taught in a separate class, Woodson emphasized the importance of collaboration between ESOL and mainstream teachers, recognizing that integration of language in classrooms is essential.

As America’s melting-pot tradition increasingly blends more languages and cultures, it’s easy for young students to begin embracing all things English–subsequently risking the loss of their native tongue.

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of Hispanics aged 18 to 29 say they prefer to speak only or mostly in English.

Most of the county’s ESOL students are U.S.-born Spanish speakers, Woodson said.

Huang said she supported her students’ efforts to keep their native language as they learn English.

“I’m a strong believer of having the kids maintain their first language,” she said. “When I teach my own two kids, I do not speak English to them even though they’re here and were learning English. We just keep speaking Chinese at home.”

Educators are quick to mention various studies, which in sum find that bilingual children have more cognition skills, including including logistical thinking and multitasking.

In the battle to preserve heritage, other schools of thought have emerged to teach English-language learners.

Dual-language schools were formed to help ESOL students preserve their native language while giving English-speaking students a chance to become fluent in a second tongue. Supporters maintain that learning in two languages boosts academic achievement, but schools across Maryland have been slow to adopt dual-language programs. Finding only two in the state, a 2009 state task force recommended 10 more programs be created by 2012.

In the MCPS system, Kemp Mill Elementary in Silver Spring is the only school that offers a dual-language program it. It is not part of the county’s ESOL division. Half of its students speak English, while the other half speak Spanish. Instruction is in both languages.

“A lot of people look at bilingual programs in general as being wonderful because they’re helping the student maintain their heritage language,” said Floyd Starnes, the school’s principal. “But what the general public doesn’t know … is that their English is better.”

Critics of the program say that bilingual schools encourage students to rely on their native tongue rather than becoming fluent in English. Some others also say it’s an unnecessary drain from struggling education budgets.

Montgomery County, however, has a unique position as one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Nationally, it slides into 12th place with a median household income of $89,155, according to a D.C. radio station’s breakdown of Census data. (WTOP.)

In contrast, Allegany County in western Maryland has a median household income of $37,083, and to the east, Baltimore City is at $38,186, according to census data.

This past year, MCPS spent $44.5 million, or 2 percent of its budget, on ESOL. It expects to spend about $48.7 million next year, according to the state Office of Management, Budget and Planning.

The combination of a racially diverse population and the county’s affluence is slowly changing the landscape of the suburban county. Woodson says that the ESOL department has noticed, and it’s been making changes in anticipation of growing foreign-born populations and their children.

“They used to say that every teacher is a reading teacher,” Woodson said. “But it’s getting clearer that … every teacher is an ESOL teacher.”