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Immersed in English

Lu Snyder

SUMMIT COUNTY – Nine-year-old Honduras native Sandy Martinez and her classmates learned words like fire extinguisher, ambulance, -ray, electrode and propeller during English Language Learners (ELL) summer camp Wednesday.

They didn’t simply study a list of words and memorize the definitions. It was more fun than that – they went on a field trip to the Summit Medical Center and a fire station.

Wednesday’s field trip was one of many the students have taken during the Summit School District’s two-week intensive language camp for elementary students learning English as a second language. They’ve also visited the police station, the post office, a historic schoolhouse and Copper Mountain, where they rode a chairlift and went on a nature walk.

“They’re using their English in a realistic setting,” said Shelly Martinez, ESL teacher.

The hands-on technique helps keep students interested as they learn and practice English, and it helps them remember what they’ve learned.

For example, when the students return to school in the fall and their class studies animal habitat, they are more likely to remember a word and its meaning because they visited the Denver Zoo and saw animals in their (simulated) habitats.

At the medical center Wednesday, the students met with Flight for Life pilot Rod Balak, nurse Kim LeBlanc and paramedic Sue Anderson at the helicopter pad. They saw the orange Flight for Life helicopter up close as Balak showed them the motor and explained how the propeller works and how he can fly patients to Denver in about 20 or 25 minutes.

Summit County Ambulance Service paramedic George Rohwer invited the kids to climb into the back of one of the ambulances, where he showed them medical supplies – such as an oxygen mask, heart-monitor and backboard – that paramedics use in an emergency.

Inside the hospital, emergency room nurse Kathy Cuthbertson toured the students through the emergency room, where they learned first-hand about -rays and electrodes.

“It’s cool,” said Cesar Gonzalez, who moved to Summit County with his family from Mexico.

The field trips are fun, Sandy Martinez agreed, and they help her learn English.

The intensive language camps are particularly helpful because all the students are learning together, said teacher Shelly Martinez. In their school classrooms, some of the students may be more hesitant to participate because of a lack of confidence in their English or fear of being teased if they say a word incorrectly.

The language camp is geared toward students finishing second and third grade who are just learning English or whose English is limited, though the program often will accept students’ siblings, if they are at the elementary school level. This year’s group ranged from about 7 to 11 years old.

Depending on a child’s fluency in his or her native language – including reading and writing skills – it may take three to seven years to become fluent in English, Shelly Martinez said. But some students make great strides through ELL classes at school and the summer ELL camp.

When you hear a child use words like “fire extinguisher” and “glow-in-the-dark,” you know they’re really picking up the English language, she said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com


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