La educación es poder.
That is Spanish for "education is power." If you didn’t know what that first sentence said, then you have an idea of what migrant students face when arriving in Kentucky with little to no English skills.
But migrant students in one Kentucky school district are finding that hurdle easier to clear, thanks to an initiative that gives them year-round access to Web-based reading programs at school and at home.
Pulaski County Schools received a grant to purchase 25 netbooks in the spring of 2013 to be used by students in its migrant program.
Northern Middle School sixth-graders Diego Ramirez, left, and Israel Zanahua work on their netbooks.
"I think this is the best our program has ever done with the reading program," Pulaski’s Migrant Program Coordinator Samantha Smith said. "The last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of improvement in our test scores and their reading."
In the fall of 2013, Pulaski County began using Web-based reading programs with all of its 8,400-plus students, including the approximately 160 migrant students in the district. Some of the migrant students already had access to computers at home and the 25 laptops purchased by the district were placed in homes of migrant students without computer access, based on academic need.
Pulaski offers tutoring to its migrant students during the summer but the staff were looking for a way to continue enriching the students’ education throughout the year.
"One of our goals was any student could go anywhere in our district and be able to use the Lexia and the Reading Plus (Web-based reading programs) and be able to use it at home. That blended learning opportunity," said Mardi Montgomery, Pulaski’s director of Next-Generation Programs. "But the other, we wanted the parents to know what the students were doing. … When our parents are involved, there’s a greater achievement rate in the end."
Maria Pyles, an English language learner instructor and interpreter in Pulaski County, said the additional tutoring during the summer months also benefits the migrant students.
"It’s good to have something in the summer when the kids are off from school, and most of the ones we work with are Hispanic and it’s Spanish at home all the time," Pyles said. "To be able to still have some English when we go into the home … I think they don’t lose what they have learned through the school year."
Before the district purchased the reading programs, the migrant program relied on workbooks for summer tutoring which weren’t "always as accurate for predicting where the students were at," said Shawn Grant, a math teacher at Northern Middle School and one of six tutors in the district’s summer migrant program.
Students learning on their own
Salma Santana was 7 when she first came to Kentucky. After returning to Mexico for five years, her family returned to the Commonwealth in the spring of 2014.
"I had more accent than I have right now," the Pulaski County High School sophomore said. "I stayed in Mexico for five years and I forgot most of my English so I had an accent. When I came (back) here and started reading, it got better and better."
Santana said the program has helped her and it was important for her to have a netbook placed in her home "because when I didn’t have something to do, I would start reading."
This year, Santana was accepted into the school’s rigorous biomedical science program.
Diego Ramirez and Israel Zanahua, sixth-graders at Northern Middle, said the program got easier for them the more they used it.
Zanahua noted he was ahead of his classmates as a fifth-grader. Both he and Ramirez said they usually work on the program two days a week at home.
Lilli Barradas, an eighth-grader at Northern Middle, said the program helped her pace her progress.
"It helped me a lot because sometimes I would mess up and it would be because I rushed myself," she said. "But now I don’t rush myself."
‘It’s people, not programs’
Grant, the migrant tutor, said he thinks any district could follow Pulaski’s lead and implement the reading program within its migrant program "and excel at it."
Using the programs with all students in the district costs Pulaski County $41,000 a year, which breaks down to less than $5 per student.
"Our district, because of the success, has picked it up every year," Montgomery added. "I can’t say enough about our board and our administration. They have been very, very supportive of the initiative to have the students and parents access to blended learning. It’s been very successful."
Northern Middle Principal Shelly Hargis said schools are always looking for research-based intervention programs and her school has found success with this initiative.
"But I still hold to it’s people, not programs, that make the difference," Hargis said, "because there are lots of programs out there, but unless you have the people implementing the motivation with it, the support, it’s not going to be effective."
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