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Summer program gives students English language cornerstone
North Georgia College & State University student Whitley Grizzle plays a word game with Lyman Hall Elementary students in the summer immersion program at Chicopee Woods Elementary School in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

For some students, learning doesn’t stop for the summer.

In fact, that’s integral for more than 100 students from Lyman Hall Elementary School working on their literacy development.

For the third year, Lyman Hall, with the help of the North Georgia College & State University education program, is giving kindergarten through second-grade English language learners a bit of extra help.

“They are second-language learners, meaning English is their second language, so a lot of their barriers to reading is the language,” said Katherine Williams, a rising senior at North Georgia and intern with Lyman Hall. “We’re trying to find out what problems they’re having with reading and how to intervene and get them back on track before school starts.”

Williams has been working in the school for the past year and was picked to help with the summer immersion project.

She joins five other interns and a number of Lyman Hall classroom teachers for the three-week program, which wraps up Friday at Chicopee Woods Elementary School. The Lyman Hall building is getting roof repairs.

The teachers seek to provide the students with a literacy “concept base” in their own language, giving them a solid cornerstone on which to build their English skills.

“We have long known from our years of work with second-language learners that the stronger the concept base is in the native language, the more quickly the child will learn the second language,” said Veronica Grizzle, Lyman Hall vice principal. “They come to us with very little literacy in their native language and so we try to start it back up again, build some of that and then move on to a second language.”

Grizzle said the students, over the summer, learn in both English and Spanish, swapping back and forth throughout the day, usually depending on the subject.

And by participating in this summer immersion program, Williams said, the students are allowed a small-group setting.

“I’ve seen the kids really benefit from the small group because during the school year they’re in a classroom of 20-plus kids,” said Williams. “I’m able to pull out their strengths and weaknesses, and I think they’re able to grow from that attention.”

Williams is also benefiting from the program.

Generally, education students have to wait until the second semester of their senior year to begin working directly with students. Most of the time leading up to that is observing classrooms.

“We place our students in Hall County schools all year long,” said Robert Michael, dean of North Georgia’s school of education. “This is just an outgrowth. ... It’s atypical, but we hope this is the model.”

At the program’s end, Williams hopes she’s given her students the tools needed to go into next year with confidence.

“I’d like to see them gain skills to help them catch up and become better readers as they start the new grade,” Williams said. “We can’t do a whole lot in three weeks, but we can supply them with the different strategies they need to become better readers and English speakers.”

Although there is no substantial data to support success rates, Grizzle said the teachers who get the second-language learners the following year see a sizable improvement.

“We don’t have a lot of data because we don’t test kids the way we do with (the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test), but based on the testimonials of the teachers who are getting them in first or second grade the next year, (they) say that it does have an effect,” said Grizzle. “(The children) come better prepared and able to do more with a bigger vocabulary.”