Cedar Rapids Program Helps Students Learn Over the Summer

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Congolese refugee Kiruhera Nkingi, 19, feels better prepared for his senior year of high school at Cedar Rapids Washington — and life after graduation — thanks to the classes he’s taking this summer at the Catherine McAuley Center.

Last month, the Cedar Rapids School Board approved an agreement with the center — a nonprofit serving immigrants, refugees and women in crisis in Cedar Rapids — to provide 10 weeks of summer programs for students entering high school this fall.

The school district has allocated $25,000 to provide at least 25 English language learners two full days and two half days of learning each week to alleviate summer learning loss, build fluency in English and literary skills, to contribute to students’ personal growth and to engage them in the community .

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that Nkingi, whose family moved from Congo to the United States in 2019, received a $75 scholarship from the McAuley Center to be part of his school’s National Society of High School Scholars, which requires a average of 3.5. or more on a 4-point scale.

Jamie Forster, coordinator of the center’s Learning is for Everyone, or LIFE, program, said the students she works with are “vivid” and “quick” to learn.

“I would venture to guess that everyone in this room is smarter than you and me,” said Forster, who took over in May.

The center launched the Summer 2020 program for young refugees. Students met three mornings a week with a focus on English literacy, personal development and community involvement.

The program continued this fall to help refugee high school and college students navigate virtual learning during the pandemic. Social distancing study spaces have been created for around 30 students with staff on hand to assist them.

In January 2021, after students returned to in-person learning, the center began offering the Learning is For Everyone program as an after-school English and homework support program. It continued through the 2021-22 school year, serving up to 30 students.

Summer school students must demonstrate progress in at least 70% of the areas assessed, including letter recognition, phonics, reading mechanics, reading and listening comprehension, writing, speaking verbal and basic math, as agreed.

Also, at least 75% of students are expected to show improved self-esteem regarding their English learning and skills.

Cedar Rapids District English Learners Scored Low on Iowa’s Spring 2021 Statewide Student Progress Assessment Compared to Their Non-Learning Peers English.

The test, taken by students in grades 3 to 11, measures student performance in English, math and science.

Students learning English scored on average 14% in English, 8% in math and 8% in science. The average scores for all Cedar Rapids students were 59% proficient in English, 50% in math, and 49% in science.

Students in Forster’s class speak at least six different languages. Since Forster doesn’t speak those languages, she said she often communicates through body language, facial expressions and charades — a game where one person interprets words or phrases for others to guess.

“I learn as much about their culture as they learn about mine,” Forster said.

And when a student struggles to learn, Forster said she turns the tables on herself: “How can I help that person succeed?”

Kasa Mukucha, 14, a freshman at Washington High School, said she felt better prepared to start high school because of her summer school experience.

Kasa, originally from Tanzania, moved to the United States with her family in 2017.

She said it was lonely not knowing the language, but now she has a “crazy group of friends” and they go on bike rides together. She communicates with her peers at summer school – those with less English skills – with hand gestures.

Anne Dugger, director of educational services at the McAuley Center, said staff add fun during summer school, with trips to go swimming and visits to the Cedar Rapids Opera House and the public library.

Students are also interested in finding summer jobs, so the center helps them write resumes and work on their interview skills, Dugger said.

“If you don’t know the language, it’s just miserable,” Dugger said. “The idea is to bring them into the community, to make them understand that they have a voice here, a role to play here within our community. They are welcome.

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