On Tuesday afternoon, students of the Urdu medium Anjuman-i-Islam Girls’ High School and Marathi medium Anuyog Secondary School pored over dictionaries in groups of five at the Vidyanidhi complex in Juhu.
They competed to complete a word search for the ingredients of chocolate-chip cookies, which most had probably never eaten before.
Next they unscrambled a jumbled up recipe to make the cookies and shouted out the steps to Lynne Gadkowski, who has been running the Access Microscholarship Programme to teach the 14-year-olds English for the last six months.
“We find the Access Programme a good way to interact with young people,” said Gadkowski, acting director of the American Centre.
The programme selects 25 students from Urdu and Marathi medium schools at each of its four centres in the city.
“We often talk to the children about American history and culture because it’s a good tool to teach English, and a good place to get teaching material. Of course, a lot of it has to be put in [Indian] context for these children,” Gadkowski said.
The programme teaches English language skills to disadvantaged students through after-school classes in more than 70 countries.
In India, the US State Department has been running the programme since 2004. Last October, NGO Pratham joined as their partner in Mumbai.
“The programme helps the girls learn English and improve their language skills,” said Najma Kazi, principal of Anjuman-i-Islam school, which came on board last October.
Many students signed up, but only 25 girls could be selected. “We joined this programme because we wanted to correct our grammar and pronunciation,” said Shifa Nakhwa (14).
“These children were so nervous and awkward about speaking in English at first, but today they even had a JAM (Just-A-Minute) session,” said Shubhangi Desai, programme co-ordinator at Pratham. “Of course they made some mistakes, but they’re confident now.”
After the JAM session, began the cookie session.
The students read out the steps to bake the cookies to Gadkowski, who mixed together the ingredients to prepare the batter. “Slowly beat in the flour mixture,” some shouted, as others screamed, “Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.”
Eventually everyone reached a consensus and at the end of the day they got to eat Gadkowski’s cookies.