KISD summer program makes language learning fun

07/21/2014 12:00 AM

07/15/2014 10:38 AM

Summer school just wrapped up for about 250 young Keller district students who are learning to speak English.

Basswood Elementary School hosted the annual program for early elementary in bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) education. The bilingual program included tracks for Spanish and Vietnamese speaking students to enhance their skills in their native languages and in English.

Under the Texas Education Code schools are required to provide 120 hours of additional instruction for preschool and kindergarten students who have limited proficiency in English. Keller goes beyond the minimum to add instruction for first through fourth graders in bilingual and ESL programs who need extra help to catch up with their peers.

“It’s mandatory for us to provide 120 hours of summer instruction, but it’s not mandatory for kids to attend,” said Mara Betancourt, summer school principal and an assistant principal at South Keller Intermediate. “We try to make them want to be here by giving them hands-on life experiences.”

Keller’s Bilingual/ESL summer school has been very popular with families because it is designed to get kids excited about learning, officials said.

Each week, the school focused on different topics and brought in guest speakers and fun activities. One unit focused on farming and where foods come from. A farmer brought in a milking cow and one room included incubators to hatch chicks. Another session featured real-life math applications with engineers from Lockheed Martin.

Daily activities included games with math, singing songs, reading books and “writing camp” where kids could write sentences in a tent once they compiled their list of words.

“We try to initiate conversations in the classroom that lead to listening, writing, reading and speaking—the four domains of language, and then use them throughout the day,” Betancourt said.

Mary Martin, director of language acquisition, said that the typical English language learner needs to gain a year and a half of learning each year to stay on track with classmates.

“We don’t want to have any kind of dropping in academic language for the students over the summer,” Martin said.

According to a 2013 report from the Texas Education Agency, about 2,000 kids (6 percent of enrollment) in Keller schools are new to the English language. Martin said that at any given time, about 50 different languages are represented in KISD families. An early session in the summer camp focused on recent immigrants, or newcomers, to the United States. Classes helped kids learn both social and academic vocabulary.

Elizabeth Timmons, who taught pre-kindergarten ESL students at summer school, said that it took time for her students to get comfortable in the classroom and speak up. Kids in her class had come to the Keller area from Central America, Albania, India, Korea and several other countries.

“You can really see language growth during the time you spend with them,” Timmons said.

Students are assessed before and after the summer program. Martin said, “In a four-week time period, we do see a lot of growth.”

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