Bryan ISD summer programs help reinforce reading, math skills

Bryan ISD Superintendent Christie Whitbeck reads Goodnight Moon to students at Kemp-Carver Elementary on Thursday as part of the district’s program reinforcing English language skills.

The regular school year might be finished, but for some students, the learning hasn’t ended.

About 400 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten bilingual, ESL and dual language students from 12 of the district’s elementary schools have been meeting at Kemp-Carver Elementary School since May 29 to establish a foundation in their home language, which for many is Spanish. Also on the campus are about 80 migrant students who are getting more lessons in math.

Both full-day programs last until late June, with the language session ending June 27 and the migrant program ending June 20.

The theme for this year’s language enrichment summer school is “Dream, Believe, Achieve,” with a focus on working on the subject at bedtime.

“We wanted to focus on if you’re struggling with helping your child with reading or working with numbers at home because of the time and your schedule, then what about the time when you’re tucking them in?” Maribel Perez, facilitator for the bilingual summer school, said. “Take five minutes, put it on a dresser, have it ready for them. … So that when they tuck them in, all the other kids are in bed or whatever, they can review for five minutes.”

Part of that theme was demonstrated by Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck, who read Goodnight Moon to students during her visit to Kemp-Carver on Thursday morning.

The purpose of the summer school is to establish a foundation in the students’ home language before they make the full transition into English in first grade.

Perez, who is the compliance coordinator for the targeted programs, said the ESL classrooms are more focused on students whose home language is not Spanish, such as students from South Korea and Russia.

There are some students in the ESL classes who are native Spanish speakers, she said, but they have already started establishing a foundation in English, which qualifies them for ESL instead of bilingual.

For both groups, the classes follow a curriculum established by Bryan teachers and staff that is interactive with lots of movement, Perez said. More than just knowing the words and how to pronounce them, the students need to understand what they mean so they can transition that knowledge into English.

According to the theory and research, Perez said, “If you don’t have a foundation in a first language, you cannot transition to a second, and that gap gets bigger and bigger.”

That established foundation language makes it easier to transition to the next language, bilingual summer school assistant Michel Gonzalez said.

With the reinforcement during the summer and at home, Gonzalez — who is a second grade teacher at Kemp-Carver during the regular school year — said the students maintain their reading level or progress, instead of sliding back a level or two.

“With the long summer that we have, those kids, they are kids, they don’t have the brain maturity to keep everything. You will see they will go back a couple of levels if you don’t continue working,” he said.

Parental involvement is critical, Gonzalez said. Five or 10 minutes of reading at bedtime or around the table at night might seem like a small thing, he said, but it can be meaningful.

“It brings a lot of academic benefits, but that family integration is priceless to have that opportunity because when you grow, you remember those things and say, ‘I remember when I used to read with my dad. We’d have different conversation and books and things,’ ” he said.

The focus of the migrant student program is math, Perez said, because reading is the same throughout the country, but math curriculum can vary between states.

The district uses the Texas Education Agency’s Project SMART program to teach migrant students from first through eighth grades.

“It’s all activities working with food, working with produce, working with tangible materials that they can actually enjoy and take home, like they’ll do fractions with pizza,” Perez said. “… That way it’s real things that they can practice with at home or that they can revisit at home.”

With the curriculum separated into two grades at a time — first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth — some students get a refresher if they are returning, while others are getting the instruction for the first time.

“These are kids that are highly mobile, so we want to make sure that there’s some consistency in their math instruction,” Perez said.

For both the language and migrant summer schools, Perez said, the synergy is “very strong” and it is just a happy place, noting her regular school-year role has her dealing more with deadlines and processes than directly with students.

“These kids are from all the elementaries, so we’re all amigos. We’re all friends. … That greeting every morning and we might not know each other’s names, but it’s very friendly,” she said. “That’s our goal is to make a relationship with every child. From the minute we step into the door until the second that we leave, it’s all smiles. Maybe because they’re so little, I don’t know, they make my cheeks hurt. I love it. It is a very happy place.”

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