CLAYTON — It’s known as “summer learning loss,” and it can put students behind when they return to school after summer vacation. That’s especially true for students trying to learn English.
But now in its fourth year in Johnston County, the English Language Learner summer program is helping students stay on track, despite the summer break.
It’s like summer school, but with more experiments and games, and because it’s not mandatory, the kids attending want to be there.
Last week, one classroom of students – rising middle school students – worked on a science experiment; they were trying to make a cell using flour, salt and water.
“We get to do things we don’t normally do at school, like sing a song and break it down to learn vocabulary, or do experiments,” said Victor Ruiz.
At home, Ruiz speaks Spanish with his parents. He came to Clayton three years ago from Mexico.
“It was really easy (learning English) because I had friends at school, and they helped me speak it,” Ruiz said.
“My mom can understand English but can’t speak it,” he added.
The summer program is for students who are rising fourth- through ninth-graders. The children are divided by age group into four classrooms at Clayton Middle School. Wilson’s Mills Elementary School also has a summer program.
“The goal is to develop vocabulary, increase their proficiency and improve their reading,” said Ana Milazzotto, director of the school system’s English as a Second Language program.
The Johnston County school system used to offer a full-blown summer school for English language learners but no longer has the money to do so. Federal dollars make it possible to offer the current program four days a week for three hours each day. The schools do not provide transportation or lunch.
Ruiz started in the English Language Learner program three years ago. “I wanted to understand other people,” Ruiz said. Now, the rising ninth-grader is a mentor in the program, helping those just starting out to get comfortable speaking English.
This year’s summer program is focused on information texts – everything from newspaper articles to textbooks to recipes.
In another classroom at Clayton Middle, rising fourth-graders read an article on a science website about Newton’s Second Law of Motion. The students got to read on a Nook at their desk.
“This is real-world information we want them to be able to understand and process, like following instructions on a recipe in English,” said Cindy Russell. During the regular school year, Russell is an exceptional children’s teacher and social studies teacher at Clayton Middle. This summer, she’s teaching science to English language learners.
“Teaching is teaching, and I like being able to do something different,” Russell said.
The summer program at Clayton Middle has four teachers, each venturing outside of their regular subject matter to help students who are eager to learn English.
Some students in the program speak no English at all.
“For those students, we pair them with a buddy who helps them with what we’re learning,” Russell said. “That’s why helpers, like Victor, are really important to the program.”