The light green eyes of the 10-year-old boy become alert as soon as someone says a word he recognizes.

The light green eyes of the 10-year-old boy become alert as soon as someone says a word he recognizes.

Samer Salem, known as Sam to his classmates at Horizon Elementary, came to the United States from Iraq in December.

Salem enrolled in the Hilliard elementary school in early January, about the same time that Jordan Sibenaller became a student-teacher in Joan Cruickshank's fourth-grade class.

Together, the student-teacher from Ohio State and the student from the Middle East sit back, watch and learn their way around the classroom and school.

"We are learning as much from Sam as he is learning from us," Cruickshank said.

Cruickshank, knowing that Salem was coming into her class and only knowing a few letters in English, grabbed an Arabic dictionary and began hanging small signs around the room to identify items. One was posted on the wall behind her desk, saying w-a-l-l in English, with the same word spelled out in Arabic beneath it.

She went around the school, taking pictures of the restrooms, playground, doors, notebooks, library, office and several other things to make flash cards with the names printed in English and Arabic beneath the images.

Gathering her students around her, Cruickshank explained that they would have to help Salem. Not only was he new to the school, but he was new to the U.S. and could not speak English.

"We talked about what we would want to do in another country, how we would feel," Cruickshank said. "So we knew the reading and writing was going to be important. We talked about how we learned to read, that whole process of the alphabet and then words and symbols and signs."

The students were eager to help. Cruickshank began choosing her students alphabetically and assigning a new student to Salem each week.

Maddy Bell was the first to guide Salem through a week.

"She is very compassionate," Cruickshank said of Bell, "and she is a great reader herself, so it was a good person to start with."

By having a student work with Salem each week, she said, her thought was they would get to know each other one-on-one and experience community-building.

While her students are working with Salem, she said, they are reading, so she does not require them to read in the classroom.

Salem and his helpers move into the hallway each day, just outside the classroom door, and they converse without interrupting the class.

"When I did it at first, he would always say it in Arabic and I would say, 'No, English Sam,'" Bell recalled.

Salem, who seemed to understand what Bell recounted, grinned sheepishly.

"He knew some English, like he knew mother and father and sister," Bell said. "But when we were doing the cards, he didn't know some of those and he would just say them in Arabic."

Cruickshank was fortunate to have Abdiweli Dahir in her class. His family is from Somali, and he speaks Somali, English and a little Arabic. Dahir translated what words he could.

"We talked about how no matter what language you spoke, a smile was universal and sort of crossed all language barriers," said Cruickshank. "Mostly, we wanted him to feel welcome. It has taught us a lot too, hasn't it?"

Her students nodded their heads in agreement.

It has also been beneficial for Siebenaller to see the learning process.

Cruickshank said she was in Mexico three years ago and attended an outdoor concert.

"I thought for sure it would be in English, because it was a theme park and a tourist place," she said. "It wasn't. It was lovely and beautiful, but I didn't understand a word of it. I did through the motion of the acting and things. When you are some place where no one speaks your language at all, it is very frustrating and it is scary. But the thing I found that was the most common everywhere was that if I smiled or if I wrote down something or ask a word, everybody was very helpful to me. The natural intimidation of not being able to speak to someone is frustrating."

Dahir's father, who visited the school during conferences, showed Cruickshank that some of the Arabic words were misspelled, because they were not connected.

"So the kids had to teach the teacher," she said.

Cruickshank has attempted a word or two in Arabic, but has not been successful.

"It still sounds like a girl from the South," she said. "I sound like I'm from Georgia. I don't think I have the right inflection."

Bell said working with a student from another country makes her want to learn another language, such as Spanish.

Adams said the hardest thing about helping Salem learn English is getting him to attempt a longer word, such as undershirt.

As Salem pronounces the word, it sounds as if it is broken into three words, but Cruickshank is proud of him and the students helping him.

Phraseology and dialects tend to be a problem with translation, according to Cruickshank.

After a month, she said, Salem and the other students know that when they arrive at the school, they go over to a basket where a bag filled with learning materials is located and they set to work helping Salem.

"He is a quick study," she said of her new pupil.

Siebenaller agreed, saying that Salem is getting a grasp of the English language.

He said Salem is also quick to pick up on mannerisms and the student teacher and student frequently give each other a "high-five."

The first word Salem learned was "no."

Cruickshank stepped in and said "yes" to the learning, but she and her students also learned to compromise. Salem would do something he did not like to do and then they would work on something he enjoyed.

"He is a math whiz," Cruickshank said. ".And you can see what charm he has. He likes people."

Watching the entire experience unfold and Salem's eyes light up as he talks with his classmates, Cruickshank said, she knows students can make a difference.

catwogan@yahoo.com