Putting Education Reform To The Test

Students Learning English Get Extra Reading Help At Summer Camp

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Lupita Leon practices reading.

Juan Galvez is going into 4th grade. His parents are from Bolivia and Guatemala, and they only speak Spanish.

When it comes to homework, Juan is usually on his own.

“My mom helps me a little because she knows the math,” said Juan. “But with reading, I’m good. I do it by myself.”

Students learning English in Ft. Lauderdale, such as Galvez, are getting free help with reading this summer.

A six-week camp has been growing steadily since it was founded four years ago. Now, because of changes in Florida testing requirements, these kids are being challenged to learn reading and writing faster.

Students at the Aprendo Porque Juego Summer Camp spend part of their day bringing books to life onstage.  The name of the camp means “I learn because I play.”

Arts and theater are important components of the camp.

Most of the campers attend nearby public schools, and many come from low-income families who make less than $200 a week.

Statistics show that during summer break, kids can lose a couple of months worth of reading gains. The loss is even worse for kids who are learning English.

In past years, the state gave English language learners two years before their FCAT scores counted toward a school’s overall letter grade.

Now, they only get one year.

The overall grade matters because schools which repeatedly fail can be shut down. Plus, teacher evaluations and salaries are affected.

Deb Greene is a Broward County public school teacher who also teaches at the camp.

“The purpose of our program is to prevent this summer reading loss that is so detrimental to these kids,” Greene said.

Sarah Gonzalez/StateImpact Florida

Lunch, provided free to the students, is prepared by moms and other volunteers.

At the beginning and end of camp, kids are given a reading assessment used by the Broward County school system.

Greene says the results show reading scores improve by an average of 22 percentage points, over six weeks.

Some students show dramatic gains. One student scored 40 percent on the initial test, but left six weeks later with a perfect score.

“I don’t exactly know if it’s exactly because we have a great way of teaching,” Green said.

“I think that it’s because the kids show up every day, and they’re engaged every day and they will learn if they’re exposed to something.”

A handful of students showed no improvement during the course.

Camp volunteers say the program is about much more than a test.

More Than Just a Test

Carmen Mendez, Juan’s mom, volunteers in the camp lunchroom.

In Spanish, she explained that it’s frustrating not being able to help her children with homework. She says she relies on programs like this camp to fill the void.

Student Lupita Leon is going into 3rd grade.  Her parents are from Mexico.

“My mom knows Spanish, but I’m learning her to read in English,” said Lupita, a struggling reader herself.

Sarah Gonzalez/StateImpact Florida

Students at Aprendo Porque Juego Summer Camp practice a play about birds of the Andes.

Teacher Kris Marsolek says it’s easy for kids like Lupita — English language learners, or ELL’s — to fall through the cracks.

“Teachers are taxed. They have ELL students; they have students that are reading below level; they have students that have qualified with learning disabilities and behavior issues,” said Marsolek.

“So to reach everyone, it’s doable but it’s hard.”

The teacher volunteers say many of their students can read well, but don’t understand what they’re reading well enough to explain what a book or passage is about.

Teachers say getting them to make that connection takes time.

Supplies and other expenses for the program are covered by grants.

The camp is run by dozens of volunteers who hope others will be inspired to recreate the program elsewhere.

Rev. Rosa Lindahl-Mallow with the New River Regional Ministry started the camp. During outreach efforts in the Latino community, she found families living below the poverty level and kids struggling academically.

“If you can read, the world opens up for you,” said Lindahl-Mallow.”It is the single most important door that we think we can open to our children to break out of the poverty cycle.

“It’s one way that we know that we can really transform these children’s lives.”



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