Soda Creek Elementary School homework club becomes adventure club
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It began about five years ago as the after-school “Homework Club,” according to Ann Coon, English language specialist at Soda Creek Elementary School.
Today, it’s officially known as the ACE — Achieving, Collaborating and Exploring — Club, and students spend Wednesdays going out to ice skate, bowl, dance and volunteer.
Throughout January, five different community organizations teamed up to take the kids skiing at Howelsen Hill after school.
“Now, we can go ski black diamonds,” said fourth-grader Thanh Lam.
Before January, he and his brother Lap had never skied.
They still do homework every Monday afternoon with volunteer tutors in the library, but the effort to give English language learners a leg up has now become a program that also immerses them in the community.
Coon said she came up with the idea for a special after-school program after a Spanish-speaking parent came to her for help with his son’s math homework.
Because of the language barrier impacting many parents, Coon realized a lot of kids learning English weren’t able to get homework help at home.
“They are disadvantaged from the start,” Coon said. “This helps level the playing field.”
There are 27 different languages spoken in the district, Coon said, and about 14 languages at Soda Creek alone. And the kids are at every level in terms of English proficiency, some having just moved from a different country knowing barely a word of English.
The response to the Monday afternoon sessions was huge, going beyond Coon’s available capacity and resources.
The volunteers who show up every week are essential to the program, Coon said.
Paul and Bridget Ferguson have been tutoring at the homework club for several years. They plan diligently to turn learning into a game — playing hangman, tic tac toe and doling out pretzel prizes.
They’ve developed relationships with the students, who greet them excitedly every week.
“They’re delightful and inquisitive,” Bridget Ferguson said of her pupils. “They make me laugh.”
Coon said they are always looking for more volunteers and language skills are not required. The kids would rather communicate in English, she said.
“You don’t need to be a teacher,” said volunteer Pam Roehl. “You just have to love kids.”
While the focus of Mondays remains on homework help and developing vocabulary, reading and writing skills, on Wednesdays, Coon started out bringing the bigger community to the kids.
Teachers and guest speakers came with cooking demonstrations, science experiments and insights into the community’s arts, recreation and nonprofits. Dogs came in to listen while the students read out loud.
But, Coon wanted to get the kids out into the community.
“Language doesn’t develop in isolation,” she said.
So, she and a colleague got their CDL licenses to drive the school bus.
“Now, we go all over,” Coon added.
And the collaboration with the community keeps growing. They’ve visited a farm, seen an orchestra performance, visited restaurants for a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen, gone to the Chief Theater to learn about comedy and volunteered at several places to learn about giving back.
Not only do the outings give the kids authentic language and vocabulary experiences, but they also provide them with the chance to do things they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do.
“It’s all intertwined into the same concept of bringing these kids up,” she said.
They’ve also expanded ACE into summer programming and continue to grow partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits.
And it’s this level of engagement, Coon said, which sets Soda Creek apart, and it’s a big part of the reason the school has won the ELPA — English Language Proficiency Act — Excellence Award a number of years in a row.
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