Last week, approximately 35 Dallastown students who are learning English as a second language studied state parks in the district's ESL program.

The program runs mornings for one week each summer. The purpose, according to Stephanie Ferree, supervisor of curriculum and instruction at Dallastown Area School District, is to help students build on their English language skills. The kids read, write and participate in science experiments in an effort to get them used to vocabulary  they might hear often in the classroom.

"The language barrier comes from the academic language we use, so the goal is to use that vocabulary," Ferree said.

The program is offered to English language learners (ELL) in kindergarten through eighth grade, and the students are split into two groups: Kindergarten through fourth, and fifth through eighth.The two groups focus on the same topic — which was state parks this year — but do so at different levels to cater to the students' needs. Students come from Ore Valley Elementary School, York Township Elementary and the intermediate and high schools, according to Ore Valley ESL teacher Lisa Dehoff, who works with the younger group of students.

Throughout the week, the students watched a number of videos and PowerPoints related to the topic and focused on the different animals that reside in the parks and their habitats. The students created papier-mache geysers with Pepsi and Mentos to incorporate hands-on learning and simulate a real geyser, according to Dehoff, who has worked with the summer program on and off for the last four years.

"The highlight of the week was when we set off geysers on Monday," Dehoff said. "The kids talked about it all week, it was fun to see them all go off."

Friday was a fun day as well, Dehoff said, because the students took a field trip to Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, Dauphin County, as part of the curriculum. Families were invited on the field trip as well, making it even more special, according to Dehoff.

Despite the program being just a week long, Dehoff said that the students learn a great deal. Because many students might travel to visit family in their home country during the summer, a week to practice English and have fun with friends works for many ELL students' schedules.

Ferree said that the program has increased in the last few years since the district has started providing transportation. Each child is "picked up at the door and dropped off at their door," to try to reach more kids, she said. She explained that the program also is  a great way to get kids who are struggling with English to meet others like them to foster camaraderie.

"The more kids we can reach in the summer and give them a learning experience, the better off they are," Ferree said. "There are others that are struggling the language, so they gain an understanding that they aren't alone in this. It gives them an opportunity to grow and learn in topic areas about the U.S. where they are now living."

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