The Washington Post

For Prince William County students, ESOL Summer program opens doors

Moises Escobar could have spent his summer sleeping until noon, lounging by the pool with his friends or watching television. Instead, the 18-year-old Gar-Field High School student is taking an algebraic functions and data analysis course.

This is the third summer that Escobar, who came to the United States from El Salvador four years ago, has attended the six-week English for Speakers of Other Languages Summer Scholars program at Hylton High School in Woodbridge. He’s trying to get enough math credits to earn an Advanced Studies diploma and graduate in the spring.

Escobar, who wants to study architecture in college, is one of more than 500 students from high schools across Prince William County attending the ESOL summer program, which is in its 11th year. The students represent 41 countries and are enrolled in classes such as English for newcomers, chemistry and geometry.

“It’s helped me to get confident in my graduation plan,” said Escobar, who plans to take Algebra II when he returns to school in the fall. “In normal school, there’s a lot of things and a lot of classes. Here it’s just one class, and it’s more easy to focus.”

Some students are retaking classes they did not pass during the school year. For many, it’s a chance to make up for lost time and stay on track to graduate in four years, said Margery Connolly, the administrative coordinator for the county’s Central Registration and World Languages Center.

“They could be catching up. They could be recovering from a bad year. Or if they came in without much English, maybe they couldn’t take the class they needed to take during the school year without more English,” Connolly said.

Students have to apply for the program and receive a scholarship to cover the $400 cost of summer school tuition, said Amy Anderton, an ESOL teacher at Gar-Field and the site coordinator for the Summer Scholars program. Attendance is mandatory for those accepted, Connolly said. Students who miss 15 hours of instruction are automatically withdrawn from the program.

“These are kids that may come in with poor language skills and low content area language,” School Board member Lisa E. Bell (Neabsco) said. “This affords them the opportunity to get the support they need during the summer and stay on time for graduation.”

The teachers in the program say the students are particularly motivated and focused on earning credits for their diploma. That makes working during their summer vacation worthwhile, they say.

“This has been such a wonderful experience, because they want to be here, and if I ask them to do something, they try it,” said Susan Mangicaro, an advanced math teacher at Battlefield High School who is teaching geometry in the ESOL program.

The program also uses teacher assistants, recent high school graduates and other college students, many of whom attended the summer program when they were in high school.

One former student, Inmar Romero, 28, teaches Spanish for native speakers at Gar-Field. He is volunteering at Hylton this summer, helping the students in the newcomers class —those who have been in the country for less than a year — learn what he and Anderton call “academic survival English.”

Romero knew no English when he came to the United States from El Salvador at age 17. He said that it was “shocking and intimidating” when he entered the public school system but that with help from Connolly, who was his ESOL teacher at Gar-Field, he graduated and is now enrolled in a master’s degree program at George Mason University.

He wants to show students that although things might seem hard now, they will get it if they keep working. He compares it to riding in an elevator.

“You push a button, the doors open, you get in,” he said. “I keep telling them, I graduated; maybe that’s level one. I went to college; maybe that’s level two. Now, I am doing my master’s; maybe that’s level three. Now, I am getting off, but the ideal thing is to send the elevator down to start picking up other kids so they can go up to the first, second, third or maybe the ninth level.”

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.

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