Doe Run first grade class rallies around student displaced by Hurricane Maria

By on June 27, 2018

An entire first grade class at Doe Run Elementary School was named students of the month for the Manheim Central school district in May. They are (front row, left to right) Zavier Hill, Serena Tran, Alexander Womer, Exziel Gonzalez, Cohen Neff, Cody Hilyard; (middle, l-r) Zeke Miller, Jenna King, Cheyenne Barnhart, Lee’Ijah Ashford, Sophie Flowers, Layna Deller, Sarah Lesher; (back, l-r) Raiden Boas, Logan Newton, Brice Gantz, Ellie Moyer, Isabella Quiles, Rohen Zeiset, and Cora Herman.

Being the new kid entering a class in the middle of a school year is a bit daunting. Not speaking the language and being displaced from your home can make it even more challenging. Thanks to the team effort of Amy Van Scoten’s first grade class, faculty and administrators at Doe Run elementary, the student that joined her class in January has acclimated to his new school.

The class was recognized for their teamwork as Doe Run’s May Student(s) of the Month during the May 23 school board meeting.

“I took the opportunity to recognize my class as a group. I wanted to show them that hard work and team work really pays off,” Van Scoten said.

“Ms. Van Scoten is a dynamite teacher surrounded by a dynamite group of kids. She and the rest of her class truly embody what we are about here at Manheim Central,” said Superintendent Peter Aiken in a June 4 email.

In addition to crediting her class, Van Scoten also credits ELL instructor Krista Grimm for her efforts.

“We as teachers have new students coming into the classroom all the time, and we’ve designed exercises to make him or her feel comfortable. It was a bit different with Exziel; he really had very little understanding of the English language when he started in our classroom in January,” Van Scoten said. “He not only had to learn a new language, but he also came into a new classroom where students had already formed relationships. It took courage for him to do that.”

Van Scoten explained that Exziel Gonzalez and his family were displaced from their home in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The hurricane ravaged several Caribbean islands in mid-September 2017, including Dominica, where it made its first landfall as a Category 5 storm; St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands); and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. According to CNN, Maria was the first Category 4 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years.

Prior to Exziel joining the class, she held a discussion with her students to help them understand what he was facing. But even after the first few days they were a bit shy around him.

When he was out of the classroom working with Miss Grimm, Van Scoten took the opportunity to talk with her class.

“They said they didn’t want to hurt his feelings when they didn’t understand what he was trying to communicate. After I explained that they could communicate in other ways, they took that to heart,” she said, “They began to model things as we worked throughout the day.”

She said that each student played a different role in helping their new classmate feel comfortable throughout the school day. Some helped him out on the playground; some in the cafeteria; some in the classroom. As they learned skills, a student would turn a chair toward Exziel and help him understand what was being taught.

“He was not the only one learning. He taught my students that you don’t need to have language to get along as well as that compassion goes a long way. I hope that’s something that stays with them as they grow up,” Van Scoten said.

She reported that he’s now communicating much easier and is comfortable in the classroom. He knows where the books are kept and what tools to get out for various lessons. He also alerts Van Scoten to students who may need additional assistance.

“The one thing he really doesn’t communicate about are his experiences in Puerto Rico. He does mention how much he loves music, and one day when some music that he knew was playing, his face lit up and he started to dance,” she said, “This has been rewarding; it’s an experience I won’t forget.”

Other MC students of the month honored in May were seventh grader Adam D’Angelo, and HC Burgard Elementary fourth grader Paige Garner.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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