New Paltz's English as a New Language Summer Academy Travels Beyond the Classroom
The New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) English as a New Language (ENL) Summer Academy students spent the summer around ponds, plants, and animals, discussing their discoveries.
This year’s ENL Academy welcomed students with a diversity of experiences as well, including ones who have moved from another country, those who have relocated several times, and “heritage” students who were born in the United States but who speak another language (or languages) at home. In total, 25 students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 10 were immersed in learning this summer through the program. Also welcomed were students with multiple reading or learning disorders, mental health issues, political refugee status, social or emotional anxiety, trauma, and more.
Designed to reinforce evolving literacy skills gained during the regular school year, the ENL Summer Academy takes an interdisciplinary approach to supporting language skills by focusing on science. During this summer’s four-week program, the ENL classes took field trips to local farms or nature preserves, expanding the program’s classroom reading and writing about nature experientially, while also enabling relationship-building. It was not uncommon to see older students guiding the younger ones, even those from very different backgrounds.
ENL Academy students sisters F. and Y. from Taiwan have been attending Duzine Elementary for over two years and are entering Grades 2 and 3 in the fall. Faye said she enjoyed seeing familiar faces from Duzine in her ENL summer class. Y. said some ENL students help each other in the school year with assignments because learning a new language can be tough. “Learning English was kind of tricky, but the math is the same, so that was good,” said Y. “For some of my friends, learning English was very tricky,” Y. added. “And some speak more than two languages!”
The English language, agreed ENL teacher Janine Rossi, is not the easiest language to learn. For students whose language of origin involves reading from right to left or uses a different alphabet or numeric system, the layers of complexities thicken.
A day in Amy Chapman’s ENL class for Grades 1-2 included morning work and a meeting, a science lesson or experiment, reading groups, outdoor recess, work in the Lenape School garden, and then writing or research. Chapman believes approaching literacy through science facilitates learning the academic vocabulary needed for all skill levels to meet milestones. “Plants are something you can teach at a basic level or a more advanced level,” said Chapman. “The students are motivated to learn because they see it in different contexts and retain the content more easily.”
D. is from Mexico and about to enter Grade 5. He said attending the summer academy served as a useful refresher. “We reviewed questions from fourth grade that I forgot,” he said. “I can learn it again in summer school, and it will help me because it’s closer to regular school when I go into fifth grade.” A., a student from Afghanistan, will be entering Grade 4. She concurred, “The summer school helped [me] get ready for fourth grade, and I could practice speaking English more every time.”
The program’s classrooms received daily visits from NPCSD’s bilingual social worker Angela Perez for social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons centered on self-esteem, promoting kindness, and self-acceptance. The students played board games and learned “soft” skills focused on social skills such as taking turns, communication skills, and proper social interactions. Perez led discussions exploring the students’ similarities and differences within their cultures and also shared videos of authors from various countries and cultures reading their books aloud.
ENL instructor Cecile Eldridge Perez noted that students will not acquire language if they don’t feel secure and is mindful of giving her young students positive experiences. “Learning another language requires an openness and a fearlessness in order to really function in that language,” Cecile added.