Literacy Camp Offers Win-Win-Win Opportunity

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

The young girl with an infectious smile spoke animatedly with UTEP junior Abigail Carrillo about the book they created during UTEP’s fall 2012 Literacy Camp, an eight-week lab with multiple benefits for students, families and The University of Texas at El Paso.

The girl, Arely Barron, was one of about 180 elementary and middle school students from area school districts who got weekly one-on-one English language tutoring from UTEP education students in third-floor classrooms in the Education Building. The class “graduated” during a Nov. 15 campus reception.Elena Izquierdo, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education, right, talks with Arely Barron, a second-grade student at Vilas Elementary School who is being tutored by Abigail Carrillo, a junior interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis in bilingual education, during the fall 2012 Literacy Camp. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceElena Izquierdo, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education, right, talks with Arely Barron, a second-grade student at Vilas Elementary School who is being tutored by Abigail Carrillo, a junior interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis in bilingual education, during the fall 2012 Literacy Camp. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Barron, a second-grader at Vilas Elementary School, was putting the finishing touches on her Spanish-language story about Campanita (Tinker Bell) and her friends. It was easy to see that the book, which was mostly illustrated with stickers of the fairy, was a source of pride and joy to the 7-year-old.

The lessons help the young students converse and think critically in English as the UTEP tutor uses the assessment and intervention theories learned in class to work with students and their parents, said Elena Izquierdo, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education. She started the camps seven years ago after she realized that many young students were falling through the cracks because they were weak in English. She saw an opportunity to team those students with hers.

“This is a way the University can enrich the instruction and build self-confidence of children through its expertise in bilingual education,” said Izquierdo, an El Paso native who remembered translating for elementary school classmates who struggled because their teachers followed a “sink or swim” mentality. “I understand there’s a difference in languages, not abilities.”

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, about 66 percent of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Those students who do not read proficiently by that grade have a roughly 78 percent chance of not catching up.

The program started small in 2005 with about 30 students from El Paso’s Segundo Barrio but expanded quickly and grew to include those whose mother tongue is Korean, Japanese, Arabic and Vietnamese. As a result of a parent inquiry, Izquierdo was able to create free English as a Second Language classes that parents can take as they wait for their campers to finish.

Parent Zinnia Alcocer said she appreciated every aspect of the camp from how it helps her son, Humberto Villalobos, a first-grade student with special needs at Aoy Elementary School, to the ESL classes she attends. She said the camp has improved his self-esteem and his reading ability.

“It helps us as parents and lifts our spirits. We hope they never get rid of it. It helps the students so much,” she said. “We’re so happy to be part of this University.”

Carrillo, Barron’s tutor and an interdisciplinary studies major, said she helped Barron take modest steps forward, but her greatest impact may have been as a role model.

Carrillo, a 2009 Coronado High School graduate whose first language was Spanish, said “I’ve worked to make her feel comfortable with English, but also to let her know she can be somebody in life. I see a little of myself in (Arely). This is an important program and I feel lucky to be part of it.”