Yuma project answers chicken-or-egg question of learning English
Arizona Republic
May 25, 2008



Students whose 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 their classmates.

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

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