CATCH-ing up for the summer

Camp pairs summer school with language focus for ESL students

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Elizabeth Miller

Parents are well schooled on the hazards of skills loss during the summer months — kids are shipped home with reminders that reading and math skills can deteriorate without some attention over the summer. But what if, on top of all that, you’re learning math and reading in your second language? Five years ago, Boulder Valley School

District teamed up with the YMCA of Boulder Valley to address the need for students for whom English is a second language and who may be struggling and in need of summer school, to have a place where they can spend the afternoon after morning summer school classes end at 11:30 a.m. — a tough hour for kids to be released if their parents are working — and a place where they can bring the English language skills they’ve been practicing in the classroom into more social settings. They created the Cultural Awareness Through Creative Horizons Camp, or CATCH Camp, with 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant funding from the state of Colorado. A camper’s day runs from 8:30 a.m. until 4:40
p.m., the first three hours of which is summer school from Monday to
Thursday. On Friday, kids have all day at camp, which opens up options
for field trips.

All
kids attend this program for free, getting bus rides to and from the
schools, free lunches and snacks and field trips to places they might
otherwise not get to visit.

“Some
of the kids have never been in a public swimming pool. They’ve never
been to the zoo, they’ve never been to the museum, they’ve never had
some of these experiences, so it’s really, really fun to watch them
grow, it’s just really, really heart-warming,” says Shaun Barnes, senior
vice president of community programs for the YMCA of Boulder Valley.
“I’ve been with the Y for over 25 years and this is the most passionate
thing I’ve done, and I’ve done a lot of things at the Y, because it’s
just such a rewarding program. … Then the kids are just — their little
faces — I’m telling you, they’re just so appreciative of everything they
get to do.” Last year, the CATCH camp was even able to provide swim
lessons. Kids are identified by Boulder Valley School District as
eligible for summer school, and it reports great success from the
program. Students are split by age group, and each group includes a camp
counselor with Spanishlanguage skills, but kids are encouraged to speak
English throughout the day.

“Our role as counselors is
to be English language role models. … Just conducting the whole camp day
in English helps them out throughout the summer,” says Eric Vandehaar,
CATCH Camp site director and before/after school programs
director for the YMCA of Boulder Valley. “We know their families really
do need this help over the summer. … If they were spending it out at
home, they’re not really
going to be exposed to English, and that’s where some of the teachers
see that achievement gap over the summer. Just not using that English
language skill, they’re going to regress a little bit as well. We’re
just exposing them and encouraging them to use those skills as well.”
And activities like trips to the zoo aren’t just about having fun, says
Ron Cabrera, assistant superintendent for Boulder Valley School
District, it’s about getting fully involved in learning a second
language by using the vocabulary that comes with certain activities.
“These are the types of reinforcers that help kids gain language, at
least retain language and hopefully grow vocabulary,” he says. Teachers
often see students lose a with language in terms of, particularly the
academic good amount of their knowledge base over the summer. velopment,
really puts the kids where they were in May “This camp, particularly
with English language de- ment, oral language fluency,” Cabrera says.
“In some so we don’t have much loss of that vocabulary develop- ways,
it’s a nice healthy way of becoming bilingual and biliterate because …
they’re applying with other kids who are English-lan- the English
language in these activities guage speakers.”

The
camp enrolls between 40 and 60 ESL kids from Columbine and University
Hill elementary schools, respectively, and 30 to 40 from the middle
school in the program — about 100 kids total in the summer.

“It’s
definitely true. Kids really love coming, and it shows that their
attendance is great throughout summer school and camp, which I think is
an indicator — if you can get kids to do good sign,” says Leah Taylor,
21st Cen- anything over the summer it’s always a tury Grant program
director for Casey Middle School.

Of
elementary students who attend more than 30 days of the program, both
summer school and CATCH Camp, scores from non-proficient to proficient
almost 43 percent improve on TCAP or above in reading — and 71 percent
of them have teachers who report improvements in student behavior.
Teach- ers of those students report that almost 70 percent of them see an
improvement in homework completion and class participation, according to
Taylor. a weekly basis throughout the three locations, she says, The
21st Century Grants serve 600 to 700 kids on meeting
them with a full wrap-around program that includes before- and
after-school programs, academic and enrichment programs and parent
programming.

“Kids who
participate in that are often ones who stay through summer as well, and
what we see is they definitely report higher scores on our school
climate surveys,” Taylor says. “They feel more engaged, more connected
at school. Their parents report very similarly that they feel like they
have structure and support for their student and feel welcome in the
school building.” At the end of this year, the program — which has some
students who have attended all five years, and counselors who have also
faithfully returned every summer — will see the end of its 21st Century
Grant permanent program modeled on the CATCH Camp that funding. Cabrera
says they’re working to develop a would maintain the cooperative
relationship they currently have with the YMCA. Without this program,
Barnes says, “Summer school need for that retention. … That group of
kids, I think, isn’t going to be as successful for these kids, which
they would really struggle.”