Yuma project answers chicken-or-egg question of learning English
May 25, 2008
first language is not English usually lag behind their classmates in achievement
even though they have the same potential. Improving English-language skills for
students who are not native speakers continues to be one of the top challenges
in Arizona's educational system. But the age-old debate remains: do we teach
students in their first language where they can stay on level in course content,
or do we concentrate on teaching them the language first, knowing that they will
fall behind in content?
Yuma Elementary School District's ELL Academy is a unique solution to this
challenge using potentially underutilized summer time. More than 500 students
have been selected to participate this summer in the third year of the academy.
"Last year, two-thirds of the 203 students who finished the program showed
measurable growth after six weeks of intense curriculum instruction," said Tom
Hurt, associate superintendent of school improvement.
The academy partners with ASU's Conexiones program, and uses computer software
like Rosetta Stone and the Jazz Chantz book series to introduce language
skills tied to music and theater.
Academy teachers will conduct classes three days a week in language arts, math,
science, music, and art. This summer's theme is based on a teacher-tested
program called Arizona Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). The
curriculum correlates with the Arizona Academic Standards and helps enhance
students' math and science vocabulary as they learn about water conservation.
"In addition to the students being taught in small groups, they go on field
trips like a visit to a water treatment facility," said Alma Sandigo, the
district's structured English immersion coordinator.
Funding for the ELL Academy comes from state education funds as well as Title 1
and Title 3 funds, allowing students to attend for free.
The best time for students to learn English is in our early-childhood programs.
But for those students who come to the country later in their schooling, the ELL
Academy makes great sense. The intense summer program allows students to learn
the language without being pulled away from important classwork. They can return
to school in the fall better prepared to study core subjects and keep up with
For information, contact Sandigo at 928-502-4400.
Carol Peck's columns appear bimonthly. Post your questions and comments on
her blog at azcentral.com/members/Blog
/DrPeck. Visit the Rodel Foundation-AZ Web site at