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Exploring Colorado: Camp Helps Students Develop Language, Friendships

Friday, July 15, 2016

English teacher Kathy Terry helps student create a diorama

Kathy Tarry, English language development teacher, helps Esther Smith, 9, create a habitat diorama June 3.

In an effort to help students develop English language skills, District 49 in El Paso County started a six-day summer English expedition camp, where students  explored localized, project-based lessons in science to develop language and friendships.

Recently, more than 30 elementary to high school students with less than three years of exposure to U.S. schools signed up for the camp, according to Martina Meadows, District 49 English language development coordinator.

Held in early June, a week into summer break, it’s a first for District 49 and possibly a first in the Pikes Peak region, Meadows said.

Spanning the northeastern side of Colorado Springs and the Falcon area of El Paso County, the school district has experienced a lot of growth. According to a 2012 fall head count, 15,478 students were enrolled. In the fall of 2015, that number went over 20,500. And many of those students are new to the United States.

 “Because of that, we received additional federal funding, which we’ve put toward creating this camp,” said Meadows, who is conducting pre- and post-assessments to help the district evaluate the camp’s effectiveness. Half way through its inaugural expedition, the camp already has proven to be valuable in promoting daily attendance to peer engagement.

The youngest student was transitioning from first grade. The oldest just graduated high school. A couple of multilingual students arrived to simply assist the process, as peer mentors and language brokers. The group represented a coordination of cultures and languages from various countries, including Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Germany, Ethiopia, Russia and China.

Silva Beate, English language development teacher at Horizon Middle School, one of the teachers who volunteered to support the camp’s summer expedition, said the goal is for the hands-on activities to lead to speaking, listening, reading and writing in English.

Under the theme “Surviving Colorado,” students were put into groups that tried to keep English as the only shared language. Through immersion activities, secondary school students explored wildfires, water filtering and making shelters for different ecosystems.

“It’s fun to work in a team,” said Emmanuel Lozano Padilla, 13, wrapping duct tape around PVC pipes for a shelter concept outside the district’s Creekside Success Center. Originally from El Salvador, he previously attended schools in Mexico.

“We can make new friends and learn new languages,” said Emmanuel, who’s most interested in studying computer engineering. During the camp, he constructed a shelter designed for rain forest-like conditions with two teammates.

Nine-year-old Esther Smith is fluent in Amharic, a language used in Africa’s Amhara region. She started developing English in first grade, after moving from Ethiopia. She’s preparing to start third grade at Rocky Mountain Classical Academy.

“When the other kids talk in their language, it feels like I’m learning from them,” said Esther, painting a blue sky for her habitat. “I sometimes know what they’re talking about right away. Like when the kids said ‘Bless you’ in Chinese and Spanish after someone sneezed.”

-Dustin Senger, digital communications specialist, School District 49

 

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