CHAMPAIGN – It was the first day of summer school for Angela Kleber's class of first- and second-grade students, but there was no easing into their return to the classroom.
Kleber had her students give her a writing sample, and she tested their reading level and gave them a math assessment, to determine where she needed to start with her teaching. At the Champaign school district's three-and-a-half-week summer school for migrant children, there's no time to waste.
"In that short amount of time, you're trying to make a difference and catch them up as much as possible," said Charles Larenas, who taught at the migrant summer school for 10 years and is a literacy consultant for the state's migrant school sites this summer.
"You almost feel like you need to be superman or superwoman, but it is a great challenge, and they are worth the effort. You have a sense of urgency that you need to do as much as you can to get them caught up," Larenas said. "In rare students, you can even get as much as a half year's increase in academic abilities. Some kids don't make too much progress, but some kids you really make this impact. Because of the situation where they are traveling so much, for that school year you are their last hope to get them caught up."
The program for elementary students started July 6 and ends Friday.
Many of the children come with their families from Texas. Their parents are in Illinois primarily for detasseling corn. Some will move on to other states for agricultural work, some stay in Illinois through the fall to help process corn, and some return to Texas when their work is done here.
Because of their migratory lifestyle, the children don't always start or finish the year in the same school district. That can take a toll on their learning, and the primary goal of the migrant summer school is to fill in any gaps in their education and make sure they are working at grade level.
The children are up to the task. The teachers say they love to work with them because they are so enthusiastic and ready to learn.
"They are super hard-working," Larenas said. "They are very responsive to requests of teachers. If you are giving an effort toward them, they are giving an effort back to you in terms of their education."
Kathy Starbird is teaching reading to fourth- and fifth-grade students. It is her first year at the summer school, and she was pleased to find most of her students were reading at grade level or just slightly below.
"The kids come so eager," she said. "They participate at a very high level. There are no behavior issues. They are kind to one another."
Starbird and Susan McGill, who is teaching math to the fourth- and fifth-graders, say they can do more enrichment activities during summer school, despite the short time frame. Recently the students were reading "The Chocolate Touch," based on the King Midas story. Students read aloud in small groups, wrote captions for illustrations in the book, and played the game Twister using vocabulary words from the book.
In Kleber's classroom, the students worked together to write a sentence, taking turns spelling a word and then reading the sentence aloud together. The students get more individualized attention than during the school year, she said, because the summer school classes are small.
The summer school isn't all work, though. The children visit Douglass Library on Wednesdays and swim at Spalding Pool Friday afternoons. They also took water safety classes at the Champaign Country Club, they'll swim at Indian Acres this week and they'll visit Pages for All Ages to pick out books for themselves, courtesy of the Altrusa Club.