Madison City Schools fights summer learning loss among students learning English as a second language

MADISON, Ala. -  Many students lose two to three months of reading skills during the summer, according to summerlearning.org. It's an even bigger loss when you live in a household that doesn't speak the same language as your teachers and peers.

Michelle Phillips teaches 62 students at Mill Creek Elementary; they speak about 25 different languages.

"I have kids that come in and speak zero language in August and usually by December, they're starting to chat a little bit," Phillips said. "But, by the end of the year they're talking, their confidence has been built."

Phillips gets about 30 minutes every day to grow the students English language skills.

"We do a lot of reading, a lot of writing," Phillips said.

Many of these students live with families who don't speak the same language as their teachers.

"These kids go home and they're speaking their native language, which we encourage greatly, we want that for them, but at the same time they're also losing the English that we have spent the past 10 months gaining, and some of the skills," Phillips said.

For the past several years, the district provided summer programs for students whose native language isn't English.

"We are able to service about 90 students out of 300 that we have based on the academic-need during the summer to prevent the summer slide," Natalia Dooley, the district's Federal Programs Coordinator, said.

The summer camp focuses on immigrant students who have lived in America less than three years.

"We have over 52 languages," Dooley said. "Of course, that's a fluid number because we have children coming and going."

Though the summer program is full this year, Madison City Schools hopes it can accommodate more next year.

"Unfortunately, we have to look at the need and take the highest needs students first," Dooley explained.

The English Learners Summer Program for grades four through six is possible through a grant from the Schools Foundation. The grant allows the district to provide more rigorous coursework in math and reading.