Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Lutheran Family Services of Colorado (LFS)

Program Name

English Express

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

To work closely in collaboration with the schools and refugee community to ensure that the best quality of service is provided to refugee youth in after-school programming, summer camps, and social adjustment activities.

Program Description

After-school Program:
In partnership with the Denver Public Schools, Four Mile Family Resource Center, and Jewish Family Services' International Kid Success program, LFS has operated an after-school program twice a week at two or more different schools since 2004. This year these programs are taking place at Ellis Elementary School, with a student body made up of nearly 20% refugees, and Place Bridge Academy, the recently-established K-8 "Newcomers' Center" in Denver. The first after-school session each week focuses on literacy instruction at three different language levels. The second session assists refugee children in developing math skills.

As part of the after-school program, students at Ellis Elementary School also attend a literacy session twice a month in the Ellis school library, where they learn about the importance of reading and computer materials available to them. They develop dictionary skills, learn how to locate materials in the library and they discuss the importance of literacy to their future adjustment and academic success. In the near future the literacy sessions may also become a part of the Place Bridge Academy Program.

International Club:
For the last three years, students with the highest language skills have attended biweekly or monthly International Club meetings at Ellis Elementary School. Refugee students have been teamed with American-born students from a variety of different schools or from Ellis Elementary. Both American-born youth and refugee students are in attendance at the meetings. The goal of these meetings is to inform refugee students about American culture and for the American students to learn more about other cultures.

Summer Language Arts Camp:
During the summer, English Express organizes the Summer Language Arts Camp, which has been in operation for four years. The camp is for refugee youth who were enrolled in Denver public schools the previous year. The camp helps refugee students retain newly-acquired language skills. Summer Language Arts Camp is also for those refugee students who arrive during the summer months and need early support in developing language skills and an understanding of American school culture.

During the summer camp, the children take part in rigorous academic training in literacy and math twice a week. Once a week, the local non-profit organization, Four Mile Family Resource Center, engages the children in outdoor activities and arts and crafts. During the summer of 2008, the special arts instructor was Burmese and had previously conducted art sessions in Burmese refugee camps. On another day of the week, English Express takes the students on field trips to educational sites around Denver. During one field trip, for example, refugee youth traveled to the Butterfly Pavilion where they learned new vocabulary and gained scientific knowledge related to butterflies and insects. Also, for those students who enjoy participating in sports, there is a week-long soccer camp in conjunction with the summer art camp. The soccer camp is free, and the children are provided with water and snacks.

Meetings and communication with schools:
Teachers, tutors, and the School Programs? Coordinator meet during both semesters and during the summer to discuss behavioral issues, to add additional materials or components to the curriculum, and to develop a fuller understanding of new populations. They also create dialogue between the LFS staff and the elementary school English Language Acquisition instructors. These sessions are also planned for Place Bridge Academy.

Parent support program:
In the past, English Express has conducted parenting support classes and social adjustment activities for the parents of refugee youth. The meetings take place anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending upon need. This year, parenting support classes will begin in the second semester and focus on the needs of the Burmese refugee families. These parenting support sessions will meet approximately once a week for three or more sessions and will focus on the needs specific to this growing community. This program helps parents better understand how to support their children in American schools.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Instructors use the Let's Go series of Oxford materials, including the Teacher's guide book, picture dictionary, student books, workbooks, and skills book for literacy instruction. In addition, English Express uses other Oxford materials and computer programs and computer-generated worksheets available from other publishing companies.

English Express instructors provide math tutoring that is tied to refugee class work in math through the use of materials drawn from resources that include: the Ellis Elementary School Scope and Sequence summary of skills for grades one through five; Everyday Mathematics workbooks developed through the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project; and from Scott Foresman mathematics textbooks. Students develop math skills, learn math-related vocabulary and study how to handle word problems.

Groups Served by Program

In the beginning, Denver Public Schools and LFS programming primarily served Somali Bantu students. Over the last several years, programs have assisted Meskhetian Turks, Burmese, Bhutanese, Iraqis, Africans, and refugees from a number of other countries. LFS' English Express program provides services not only to those refugee children resettled by LFS, but also to refugee youth resettled by other voluntary agencies who attend Ellis Elementary or Place Bridge Academy.

Program Funding

English Express is partially funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition, the program is funded by the JFM Foundation (a private foundation), and Lights on After School grant funding. In past years, Supplemental Educational Funding (No Child Left Behind funding) has partially funded the program.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

English Express is currently staffed by eight paid instructors and tutors. English Express has three to four volunteers who help them during the school year and five to six volunteers during the summer. Two teachers and the library technician are part of the team at Ellis Elementary who work with the English Express staff. English Express staff communicate frequently with the staff at Place Bridge Academy. All staff has experience and training in working with limited English speaking youth. A number of English Express staff and elementary instructional staff hold masters degrees and many are bilingual and bi-cultural.

Program Evaluation

Evaluation of the program is on-going. Students are given an entrance test to determine their entry level English literacy and math skills. Benchmark test scores are also taken into account in placing students in classrooms at a certain level. During this academic year, English Express uses testing from the Oxford Let's Go series. Classroom and ELA instructors sometimes create informal surveys. English Express instructors and tutors have also informally reported on progress noted with students.

During the first year that the Somali Bantu Parent Support Meetings were conducted, a researcher from Denver University formally evaluated the parent support group. She used a translator and interviewed several parents who had participated in the program. During later years, the Meskhetian support group was informally evaluated with the help of the Russian-speaking translator. Meskhetian parents suggested family support groups that would take field trips around Denver the following year, so that the whole family could be together and experience educational trips in Denver. Each population provides valuable suggestions for ways in which their parental needs can most successfully be addressed.

The International Club has been informally evaluated by teachers on the LFS staff and by teachers at Ellis Elementary School. Approximately eight foreign students and eight American-born students attended the International Club sessions. Instructors report that all students develop a greater understanding of their classmates and have a greater understanding of what appropriate social behavior is expected in the classroom and on the playground.

Program Outcomes

More than 50 students receive after-school services during the school year and approximately 50-60 students attend the summer language camp. Mid-year testing of students at Ellis Elementary School during the last year indicated that more than 75% of the students made progress in math and reading. Test scores indicated a 15 point jump with improvement noted especially in reading and spelling. Jennifer Bailey, ELA instructor at Ellis Elementary, reports that all students involved in the after-school program improved in literacy, math skills, and classroom behavior. A few students improved so noticeably that they are now functioning at grade level.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

James Horan
Vice President of Refugee and Community Services
(303) 217-5187

Program Dates

This program began in 2004 and is still operating as of January 2009.