Summer Camp Aims to Help ESL Students Become Community Connected


Summer Camp Aims to Help ESL Students Become Community Connected

Language barriers shouldn’t keep teens from reaching their full potential, yet many English language learners are falling through the cracks when it comes to community involvement, advocacy and leadership opportunities.

The University of Oklahoma’s Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) and Oklahoma City Public Schools are hoping to close that gap through a new camp launching this summer on the OU campus.

The English for Leadership and Civic Engagement Summer Program (ELCE) is open to OKCPS English language learners in 9th-11thgrade. It is designed to help high school students develop the English language and leadership skills they need to advocate and create change in their schools and communities while improving their English language proficiency, said Jaime Ladd, camp program director and co-instructor.

“Many of these students are at risk of dropping out of school,” Ladd said. “Our hope is that by getting them engaged, we can help with retention.”

Janna Corn, camp co-director and lead instructor, said the camp is meant to give a voice to immigrant youth and equip them with the tools they need to stand up and speak out.

“It literally guides students step by step, equipping them with the confidence, skills and know-how to accomplish something that might seem monumental to some, from identifying their cause and garnering support to organizing, mobilizing and taking action. This valuable information is meant to be taken back and implemented in their schools, neighborhoods and communities.”

“It literally guides students step by step, equipping them with the confidence, skills and know-how to accomplish something that might seem monumental to some, from identifying their cause and garnering support to organizing, mobilizing and taking action,” Corn said. “This valuable information is meant to be taken back and implemented in their schools, neighborhoods and communities.”

Ladd said she was researching who else besides international students could benefit from English language learning when she decided to reach out to Christopher Berry, OKCPS language and cultural services director.

“I told him we were interested in what Oklahoma City Public Schools needed in the area of helping English language learners, and he said it’s always been a dream of his to do a summer camp for ESL students but with a focus on leadership and advocacy and truly empowering them to be agents of change,” Ladd said.

During a two-hour lunch meeting, the two hashed out plans for the camp, jotting notes on a paper tablecloth.

Ladd said the camp will be offered in four different sessions during the month of June. Campers will stay in dorms on the OU campus while being immersed in English language learning and civic engagement through workshops, field trips and guest speakers. Campers will also participate in recreational activities and a college and career exploration fair where they’ll see what it looks like to work in a variety of fields and explore pathways to their future after high school.

“The instructional part of the camp is project based. Students will identify an issue in their school or community that they feel has been neglected or needs to be resolved, and we’ll work with them to establish how they can go about making that change,” Ladd said. “They’ll also identify and develop their own leadership style. We want them to understand that to be a leader, you don’t always need to be an extroverted, dynamic person.”

Students will come away with a set of tools they can use to connect with people, including how to write and set up meetings with legislators and community leaders, utilize various media outlets, and develop a coalition to carry out and execute their agenda, Ladd said.

Ladd said students will be encouraged to take what they’ve learned back to their schools and communities, where they’ll be challenged to start student groups.

“We want them to keep the momentum and enthusiasm going by creating a ripple effect to recruit more students to their cause and serve as ambassadors that better define ESL students,” Ladd said.

Ladd said the camp is open to 100 students through an application process. She hopes she can eventually take the camp to other communities.

“First, we’re hoping the camp will establish leaders who are connected to the issues and needs this population faces so they can have a voice and create some kind of change,” Ladd said. “We’re also hoping to continue creating camps that serve English language learners, however that may be, and connect them to resources across the state that will help them succeed.”

Do you know an OKCPS ESL student in 9th-11thgrade who might benefit from this camp? Call (405) 325-0754 for more information.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.