Avon students hit books early | AspenTimes.com

Avon students hit books early

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

AVON, Colo. ” Avon Elementary is trying something new this year – about a month of extra school for students falling behind in reading.

Classes began this week, while other schools start classes Sept. 1. Walk into a classroom, and you’ll find a group of five kids huddled around a teacher with books in their hands, reading together, working on grammar problems, helping each other and asking each other questions. When someone gets a question right – they find out right away. If they get one wrong, the teacher can immediately correct them and show them the right way. It’s like they’re having a personal, three hour educational conversation with their teachers.

The kids here are receiving a level of attention they can’t have during the rest of the year, where teachers are working with 21 students at a time, said Avon Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon.

When kids get intense, focused time with teachers, you’ll start seeing big improvements, and that’s why these kids need the extra days, Rewold-Thuon said.

The students will have about 15 extra days in August, and at the end of the year, they’ll have about 10 more days of school.

Unlike other summer reading programs, these extra days are mandatory school days where attendance will be taken, and parents will be held accountable to make sure their kids are at school.

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About 150 students are in the program, and nearly all of them have low English skills. Avon Elementary has the highest percentage of students learning English as a second language in the district. The growing number of students with low English skills correlates with low test scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, known as CSAP. Scores had been steadily declining over the past 10 years.

So, the school has been looking for innovative ways to boost the reading skills of its second language learners.

Last school year, Avon began having school on Saturdays for the same group of students who were reading below grade level. Most of those kids made big improvements over the year, and the extended school year is the next logical step.

The school also tried something called “flooding” this past year, where everyone in the building – P.E. teachers, art teachers, aides and specialists- all joined together to teach reading for an hour a day across the entire school.

And the school did see remarkable improvements on its CSAP scores. Last year, only 21 percent of Avon Elementary third-graders scored “proficient” or “advanced” on CSAP reading. This year – 55 percent made the grade, a 34-point improvement.

With the exception of fourth-grade writing and math, Avon Elementary improved in every subject and grade level.

There’s still lots of improvement to be made though, and after seeing how much students improved after attending Saturday school, Rewold-Thuon believes this extended school year could really help the students. Because the entire district is dealing with a large and growing numbers of students struggling with English, this pilot program could be used at other schools, if it seems to work well, Rewold-Thuon said.

“There’s a high amount of accountability with this program,” she said. “People are interested to see how the students grow.”

Having an extended year, more than anything, gives students more time with teachers, which will help them get caught up to other students.

“Second language learners need more time, and that’s what they have here,” Rewold-Thuon said.

And it helps that the time is intense and focused, with lots of attention from the staff, Rewold-Thuon said.

The kids only have about three hours of class a day, and they are split between morning and afternoon sessions. That’s why they have such a small teacher-to-student ratio.

The extended year will of course mean a shorter summer for these students – but that should end up being a good thing.

Many of the students being targeted by this pilot program aren’t able to attend summer camps or take interesting vacations with their families. These are the students who end up staying inside and watching TV all summer while the parents are working, and their school work ends up suffering.

Starting school early gives them more time to adjust to the routine and academic workouts they didn’t have for a couple months, said teacher Jessica Crooks.

And it seems the kids don’t really mind coming to school.

“They all really want to be here. One student told me, ‘I didn’t think I would want to come to summer school, but it’s not so bad,'” Crooks said.

Student Karen Herrera said she enjoyed coming to school and reading and writing with the other kids.

mterrell@vaildaily.com

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