Students sacrifice Saturdays to build English language skills

Educators hope a little Saturday school is just what these struggling students need.

Global Community High School principal John Anzalone calls them “long-time learners.” They are students who “have been in the country for several years but still have a major gap in their proficiency.”

Some of them are four or five years behind in reading and writing, Anzalone said. He is trying to help these students through the Language Enrichment Acquisition and Acceleration Program, or LEAAP, at Global Community, 3801 E. Washington Ave.

The school is opening its doors for four hours Saturdays throughout the school year to help a select group of low-performing students.

The program is a collaboration among Global Community and several Clark County School District departments, including the English Language Learner Program, Education Services Division and Student Support Services Division. Anzalone met with department officials and teachers during the summer to come up with the structure of the program. He enlisted the help of three teachers, including Rachel Warbelow, an English teacher at Keller Middle School, 301 Fogg St., who came highly recommended out of those summer meetings, Anzalone said.

Warbelow graduated from Indiana University in 2007 and joined Teach For America, an organization that places college grads as teachers at low-income schools. She met with Anzalone and was impressed with his vision for the LEAAP Institute.

“It fit in with my personal mission to give every student the opportunity to get a college education one day,” Warbelow said.

During one of her recent Saturday classes, college was a constant theme.

“Sit up nice and straight like you’re going to college,” Warbelow repeatedly told the students. She taught them on the first Saturday that she expects them to have a “slanting” posture, with hands together and elbows pointed out on their desks.

“Very nice slant,” she tells a boy. “That’s impressive. You’re sitting up nice and straight like you’re on your way to college.”

But these students have a long way to go.

Warbelow is going over long and short “A” sounds with her students, most of whom are in middle school. Down the hall in another classroom, Global Community teacher Belkys Fernandez is quizzing students on days of the week in English.

Students in the program are from Cortez, 4245 E. Tonopah Ave.; Diaz, 4450 E. Owens Ave.; and Ronnow, 1100 Lena St., elementary schools and Monaco Middle School, 1870 N. Lamont St. One student is a freshman at Sunrise Mountain High School, 2575 Los Feliz St.

Anzalone sent invitations to 60 families whose kids were targeted because of low performance on standardized tests. About 40 families responded, and about 30 students have attended regularly, he said. The biggest reason these students are not improving more quickly is they do not have enough exposure to English at home and in the hallways, he said.

“They’re not being pushed to speak English all the time,” Anzalone said. “… We’re trying to play catch up with them.”

Anzalone said the goal of the program is to have every student at least catch up to their appropriate grade level in English.

“It would be icing on the cake if they actually gained a grade level,” he said.

Warbelow sees her job as more than just teaching English. Some students do not have good classroom manners, and she is trying to correct that behavior. She said she wants to “build character (and) those skills they’ll need to be successful in high school and college.”

Some of her lesson was unorthodox. She used actor Will Smith, creator of words such as “jiggy,” to help students. Warbelow began the class by playing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” while having students read along with the lyrics. Then they all sang it together. Then students had a minute each to read through the song with a partner.

It is a fun way to get kids to try reading at a quicker pace, said Warbelow, and it has some big words, such as “Philadelphia.”

Anzalone said he hopes to grow the program to different sites around the valley but keep enrollment small enough so that one-on-one instruction is feasible.

For more information, contact Global Community High School at 799-8850.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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