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More than 300 Charleston County teachers participate in Gullah/Geechee seminar

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD)- New people are moving to the Lowcountry every day and some may be unfamiliar with the Gullah/Geechee culture. A program within the Charleston County School District works to educate teachers about Gullah/Geechee and how to best serve the students in that community.

One common misconception is that Gullah/Geechee speech is broken English, but it's a language all it's own.

SC State University Assistant Professor of Speech Pathology, Dr. Jessica Berry, says, "I think one of the most common phrases would be 'I ben a dun dat'. The translation would be, 'I've already done it'. So if someone were to hear it would be misconstrued as just bad English, which is not true, it is the Gullah language."

Dr. Berry says she understands a lot of the struggles Gullah/Geechee speakers face in the classroom because she went through them herself.

She says, "I experienced some negative comments from my teachers regarding my speech and diction, and the possibility of not being as successful because of the way that I spoke."

Dr. Berry worked with the Charleston County School District to create the Encourage Me! program last year. It's a training for teachers to better understand the background of their Gullah/Geechee students and how to help them be successful in school. 

Dr. Berry says, "Saying, 'When we're doing an assignment where I ask you to come up and talk about a book report, I want you to speak in mainstream. I may critique what you say in those contexts, however, when we're brainstorming use the language you're comfortable with'."

And allowing students to edit their writing for repeated mistakes that come from "code switching", or translating from Gullah/Geechee to Standard American English.

Dr. Berry says, "When you're writing, you're filtering it how you hear it. In Gullah, we don't have to use 'am'. I would say, 'I pretty'. So when I write, I leave out the 'am' and I have to double check that I put all my 'ams' in."

More than 300 Charleston County teachers have participated in the training. They tell News 2 it was a productive experience and look forward to embracing their Gullah/Geechee students with new lessons this school year.

7th grade English teacher, Ashley Davis, says, "We plan on having a discussion about different dialects across the country, and include the Gullah language in that as well, and discussing how we all sound different, but it just makes us more interesting."

The next Encourage Me! training is coming up on November 8th. Any CCSD teachers interested in participating can register in Entrack or call the Fine Arts and World Languages office for more information.

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