International House summer reading program aims to expand

Summer reading sessions for Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary school students are coming to an end this week, and leaders of an International House program for students learning English hope their efforts will again prove to be successful in boosting reading scores.

In its fifth summer, the International House program serves low-income immigrant students who don’t speak English at home. Children who are entering first, second or third grade spend half a day at their school for six weeks working on basic reading skills in small groups.

The program serves more than six times as many students this summer as it did when it began, and organizers hope to use a new infusion of money from Mecklenburg County to grow even faster for next year.

The Youth English Tutoring Program launched in 2010 with 36 students meeting at St. John’s Baptist Church on Hawthorne Lane. The next year, International House began working more closely with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and using their schools as sites. The nonprofit organization serves immigrants in Charlotte with English classes and cultural events.

The program has added a new site each year, and its budget has grown more than fivefold to $97,500 this summer. More than 230 children attended this summer at four sites: Merry Oaks International Academy, Montclaire Elementary, Pinewood Elementary and Nations Ford Elementary.

CMS teachers and counselors refer to International House students from those schools that they think could benefit from some extra summer reading practice – many of whom come from a Spanish-speaking household. As Charlotte sees an influx of students from Central America and other areas of Latin America, the program is particularly targeting recent arrivals to the United States.

“This gives us the flexibility to be able to go back and reteach some concepts and do it in a fun and less restrictive way,” said Karol Dixon, the site coordinator at the Nations Ford Elementary location. During the school year, she is a family advocate on staff at the school.

Teachers come from CMS and lead each classroom. Tutors, who tend to be undergraduate or recent graduate teaching students, work with the kids in groups of three or four.

At Nations Ford Elementary on Tuesday, rising first-graders read short books with titles such as “Yuck Soup” and “What’s the Time, Grandma Wolf?” Second-graders arranged words on pieces of paper into sentences, and third-graders learned about simple machines such as pulleys and wedges.

One by one, students are being tested this week on their progress over the summer. Megan Mavity, director of education at International House, said that 95 percent of students historically have maintained or improved their reading level. Often, children without reinforcement can lose six months’ worth of reading comprehension skills over the summer, she said.

Funding for the International House program comes from grants from the foundations of several corporations in the Charlotte area: Belk, Piedmont Natural Gas, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Duke Energy and SPX. Mecklenburg County has pledged $50,000 for next summer’s program, which should allow it to expand to six schools, Mavity said.

The CMS program for third-graders needing to retake an end-of-grade or Read to Achieve test also comes to an end this week. Other CMS programs, such as a science, technology, engineering and math course for rising ninth-graders or a high school summer graduation course, also end Wednesday.

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