Grant leads to new experiences for Steamboat English language learners |

Grant leads to new experiences for Steamboat English language learners

Students from English Language Learner Specialist Dani Booth's class at Steamboat Springs High School traveled to Denver last month with help from an Education Fund Board Innovation Grant. The English language learners were able to expand learning opportunities outside the classroom thanks to the grant.

— On a visit to the Steamboat Art Museum Monday morning, students in Dani Booth’s Strategic Language Arts class formed pointed questions to ask painter John Fawcett about his displayed work.

The Steamboat Springs High School students are beginning English language learners, but they understand the value of personal interaction within the community to develop language skills.

“We practice our English and interview with lots of people,” said student Itzli Martinez. “I think I learn more.”

Martinez is one of 11 students in Booth’s class this year, which was able to expand its curriculum for ELL students thanks to a $2,000 Innovation Grant from the Education Fund Board’s Grant Commission and $1,500 in additional donations and scholarships.

The students are from Nepal, China and Mexico and are living here permanently, not as exchange students.

The grant paid for a class trip to Denver, where students competed in a roller coaster building competition at Elitch Gardens, took a private tour and stayed the night at the Denver Zoo and attended a session with expert educators at the Downtown Aquarium.

“For a lot of us, it was the first time in a zoo,” said tenth-grader Emanuel Villa.

The trip to Denver, Monday’s visit to the art museum and other class outings throughout the year helped students surmount the learning curve they experience when trying to complete regular high school coursework while also learning a new language as teenagers, according to Booth, an ELL specialist.

“High school ELL students have struggled in class and on state assessments, understanding academic language and communicating with the various adults in and out of the building,” said Booth in the group’s EFB grant request. “There is a large learning curve when it comes to attending high school in a different country and learning a second language as a teenager.”

The Steamboat Springs School District was recognized in December with an English Language Proficiency Act Excellence Award for exceptional work with ELL students.

Booth drew her inspiration for the grant from a school in San Diego, where students go on numerous outings outside the traditional classroom to learn from experts within the community, build relationships and practice communicating with adult professionals.

“For many of the students, this was their first trip spending a night away from their families. It was an incredibly valuable experience that cannot be underestimated. This was more than a field trip; it was an opportunity to experience new people and places and practice their second or third language in real life situations,” Booth said.

Booth’s students said the class offered a safe place to ask questions and build language skills.

“It helps us to learn more English and communicate with other people,” said freshman Hector Jacobo.

Booth said that, while it would be difficult to replicate the San Diego school’s extensive program, the grant was an attempt to initiate change and improve the class’s curriculum.

“Students need to be engaged and want to connect their learning to the real world,” Booth said. “Students have expressed their interest in learning by doing, rather than from a textbook; they want to learn and practice communication skills instead of becoming complacent with familiar faces, or worse, never asking the questions they have.”

The class’s grant was part of $50,000 in innovation grants awarded by the Education Fund Board’s Grant Commission in December.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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