Matt TerrellVail, CO Colorado

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May 25, 2007
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English skills easy to lose in summertime

EAGLE COUNTY Books are the portable language teachers of the summertime.Sarahi Marin, a fourth-grader at Avon Elementary, wants to read about 25 of them when school lets out, perhaps from her favorite Magic Treehouse series. Every time she picks one up, shell be reinforcing the English skills she worked so hard to learn during the school year, the skills so easy to lose during the summer break. At a school where 75 percent of the students arent proficient in English, taking 20 minutes a day to read is imperative, Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said.Overall, summer is a critical time for the hundreds of Eagle County students who are struggling to learn English.Unless they sign up for summer school, they say goodbye to their teachers, lessons and textbooks. It becomes easy to drift away from reading and writing every day.Theyre spending more time at home with their families, where Spanish may be the only language spoken and heard.English, the most important thing they work on all year, can easily take a back seat for three months, and it shows when they come back to school in the fall. Teachers then spend a lot of time reteaching what was lost during the summer.There are ways for English learners to keep in practice on the break, and teachers are encouraging kids to do everything from playing soccer to writing grocery lists in English. A lot of it takes personal initiative. A lot of it takes a big push from the parents.

Generally, students dont have trouble speaking English when they return to school in the fall. Its the academic side the reading and writing kids are tested on that they really struggle with, Rewold-Thuon said.They can still go out and speak English in the community, but unless they go to a class, they lose their ability with academic English, she said.Students at all grade levels have a variety of summer school and reading camp options its just that many of them, for whatever reason, dont go.For instance, there will be an intense reading and writing summer session for elementary English learners at Eagle County Charter Academy and Red Hill Elementary. More than 800 students were asked to participate this year, but so far, only about 200 have signed up, said Beth ORiley, assistant principal at the charter academy and coordinator for the summer sessions.Many families plan vacations during those classes, and many families want their children closer to home. Some families may not see the importance or some may have their children doing other things. The program is growing, though, and more parents are seeing the benefits, and there are already a lot more students signed up this year than last, ORiley said.

Outside those summer classrooms, there are still plenty of ways to keep the English skills going. Participation in any summer program, whether its academic or not, can be a good thing for students learning English. If a kid joins a soccer team, he or she will no doubt be speaking English with other students, Rewold-Thuon said.Students are encouraged to go the library often and immerse themselves in books.Teachers ask kids to keep journals, and they end up having fun with it. Even small things like making grocery lists for their parents and writing letters and notes to friends can make a difference. Like with anything, the more practice, the better.Having students read daily would ease the loss, or lack of practice, in skills that schools typically see after summer break, said Jennifer Shank, the English-language-acquisition instructional coach for the district.Shank suggests that students read aloud with their parents in their native language instead of turning on the television. It may not be in English, but becoming better readers in any language will help them with their English, Shank said. When kids actually do all these things, teachers definitely notice a difference, Rewold-Thuon said. They may not improve over the summer, but at least they dont fall way behind like many students do.Much of the children's success over the summer depends on how involved their parents are, said Marie Rita, a second language teacher at Eagle Valley High School.Many local parents are learning English through Colorado Mountain College, and if students watch their parents work hard at learning English, theyll probably work hard as well, Rita said.Theres a level of dedication you can see in the students who have parents struggling to learn English, Rita said. You can see those results in school.

Many parents, though, dont have much incentive to learn English. If they work some place where all their co-workers dont speak English either, theyll get along just fine without it. Rita would like to see more local businesses encourage workers to take English classes and be flexible with work schedules.It helps the whole community, and it helps individual families, Rita said.============================================Jump-startKindergartners at Avon Elementary struggling with English this year will be starting two weeks early as first-graders in the fall.The district calls it the Jump Start program, and this will be its pilot year. The idea is to get students caught up and on grade level before all the other kids start school.===========================================

==========================================Year-round school?One solution to the loss of language skills during the summer would be to institute a year-round calendar in the schools that need it.With shorter but more frequent breaks, students would be less likely to fall behind in learning English, Avon Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said.It would be very advantageous for Avon Elementary, she said.While the school staff supports the idea, its hard to tell how many parents would go for it. Many parents like having a long summer break with their kids.As long as there is support from the district and community, I think a year-round school would be a great option to prevent English-language loss for (English language learner) students, said Jennifer Shank, the English-language-acquisition instructional coach for the district.==========================================


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The VailDaily Updated May 28, 2007 04:15PM Published May 25, 2007 02:00AM Copyright 2007 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.