For 11-year-old Zitlalik Avalos, summer break in Hamilton is about working to improve her English skills.
She and dozens of other English Language Learner (ELL) students are attending Hamilton City Schools’ first “Exploring Words Summer Camp” at two of the city schools in neighborhoods with large Hispanic and other foreign-born populations.
“English is important to learn,” Avalos said clearly and precisely.
The federally and locally funded camps, which are held each weekday at Riverview Elementary and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, are a joint effort of the Butler County school system and the local YMCA.
The goal: Better English speaking students make for better performing students.
According to recent U.S. Census estimates, the Hispanic and Latino population of the 62,000-resident city has nearly doubled since comprising 2.6 percent in 2000 to 5.7 percent in 2015.
But the city school district’s enrollment of about 9,000 students for the 2016-2017 school year is higher and includes 13.6 percent Hispanic and Latino students, according to the latest Ohio Department of Education report card.
“These programs are essential for our English Language Learners as they learn essential language skills to help them better prepare for the demands of our college and career readiness curriculum,” said Hamilton Schools Superintendent Tony Orr.
Corbin Moore, assistant director for assessment, gifted and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, said the daily “camps,” which provide breakfast and lunch to participating students, mix learning with fun.
“During morning camp session, students are exploring academic English language words through several interactive activities and lessons. Students read, research, discuss, write, create, act (drama), and present about a variety of civics-based and STEM related topics,” said Moore.
Students “use Chromebooks, tablets, and other more traditional tools to read, research, write about several topics under civic and STEM education themes. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills are practiced daily by the campers to improve their conversational and academic English language skills. Campers progress will be measured through a pre and post academic vocabulary assessments … and by evaluating writing samples by word count, grammar, and overall quality,” he said.
Avalos appreciates the language camp, especially having teachers on hand to guide her.
“The teachers help you out with your English. Whenever you mess up in the English they don’t care too much because they know you are trying to learn,” she said.