Summer program provides immersive experience for Saugerties students learning English

Cahill Elementary School (photo by Dion Ogust)

For the second straight summer, Cahill Elementary School morphed into the English as a New Language (ENL) Academy, a five-week immersive program for elementary-school students for whom learning English is part of their educational experience. Fifteen students participated in the ENL Academy this summer, up two from last year.

They attended school from Monday through Thursday from 8:30 to noon from July 10 until August 10. A science-based curriculum was combined with English language learning.

“Last year our focus was social studies, and we worked with the children on our local and New York State history,” said Dawn Scannapieco, principal of both Cahill Elementary and the ENL Academy. “We learned a lot about Saugerties, our community, and then we learned a lot about New York State history. We learned about Ellis Island, we learned about the Statue of Liberty, we learned about maple syrup and apples. It was a lot of fun. And this year we decided we would focus on science. We have a garden at Cahill. The teachers used our garden and the children planted a seed and grew vegetables. And then they went on various field trips as well.”

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Field trips this summer included visits to the garden at Saugerties High School and the Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston.

“The librarian brought them to the library, and they did something with the process of growing food,” said Scannapieco. “They came to the high school and built birdhouses and looked at the garden at the high school and learned how students help take care of it. They themselves helped take care of our Cahill garden this summer. They picked tomatoes and they picked green beans and zucchini.”
Last year, the focus was on history. “We brought them to Olana. They went to the Thomas Cole House,” said Scannapieco. “It was an incredible opportunity. They don’t even know they’re learning, they’re having so much fun.”

Off-campus trips occur largely in the final week of the summer program. But the time spent at Cahill is mostly hands-on, too. After 90 minutes in the classroom each day, students would work with specialty teachers on physical education, library study and art. An art project involving the creation and painting of papier-mache masks, for instance, became a study of symmetry and classical art techniques. It gave the students a chance to see and do things they might not ordinarily have the chance to do.

The hands-on learning during the ENL Academy included the first hour and a half in the morning with the teacher in the classroom, when the students either wrote about what they did or learned the previous day. “They sit in a circle and talk about questions a teacher might ask. There’s a lot of community-building within that group itself.”

Being English-language learners in a community where most of the other kids grew up inspires many of the children in the ENL Academy to form bonds with one another. Scannapieco said those bonds are encouraged. So is expanding that community to involve the school at large.

“Last summer what I noticed is that some of our students go through the day, and they’re with their group of friends in their own little community,” Scannapieco said. “Now we’re bringing that same little community together during the summer, and it’s kind of like they’re the only ones there. I saw it become their school. It made me very happy.”

The kids came in every day last summer and this year with big smiles on their faces, she reported. “And when they come to school in September, they’ll have a greater sense of community. They’ll become more involved with the bigger community of Cahill, which is really nice to see. They get more involved in after-school activities. They become more involved with clubs, like garden club or knitting club.”

Teachers aren’t the only ones doing the teaching at the ENL Academy.

“I had one student who moved here in the spring and did not speak any English,” said Scannapieco. “Her English is still very limited, but what a great sense of pride she had coming into this program this summer. She was smiling every day, speaking to the other children. They teach each other English words. There’s a lot of peer help that occurs. They’re all together.”

Scannapieco said Cahill was the natural location for the ENL Academy. Many of the students for whom English is a second language live within the school’s attendance zone in the village. There are 31 such students at Cahill, she said. The district would be able to handle all of them attending the ENL Academy in the summer.
The program staff consisted of a regular education teacher, an ENL teacher, a teaching assistant, and part-time special area teachers. It is funded from federal Title III money, some of which is received by the school district and disbursed through Ulster Boces, giving all the school districts in the county an opportunity to meet their needs.

While the overarching focus may change from year to year, at the heart of the ENL Academy is an immersion in academic and social activities designed to keep student language skills heading in the right direction.
“The opportunities are wonderful,” said Scannapieco. “A lot of our students don’t really get to leave the village at all. [At] the ENL Academy, they get to go on field trips and see and experience new things.”

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