“Our language learners make up a large percentage of our students. We need to be able to reach to all of our students the best way that they’ll learn. CATapult provides an opportunity for our language learners to succeed. It helps them become a better learner, which in turn helps everybody else within the schools.”
Watching the number of English Language Learners continue to grow in recent years, teachers within Dalton Public Schools knew that they needed additional support for these students.
Kim Rhyne, City Park principal and on-site administrator for Camp CATapult, saw the need for an additional program after a high influx of students from other countries began arriving in the district.
"As we watched our numbers really increase, we knew we had to do something more than just what was going on in the classroom," Rhyne said.
Two years ago, in a meeting with English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) leads from different schools, several ESOL teachers from the district attempted to come up with a creative, catchy name for a new program designed to push newcomers forward. Chris Harton, former ESOL lead at Park Creek Elementary School, came up with CATapult, and the program was born.
Although this year was the second year of the CATapult program, it marked the first year of the Camp CATapult summer program. For two weeks, English Language Learners in 2nd– 5thgrade from City Park, Park Creek and Blue Ridge could attend a summer camp designed to help them continue to learn English, as well as social skills.
"These are the children who have just moved here, most of them within this year, who are trying to learn English," Rhyne said. "So, we are able to do a real focus on that academic language. But it's also to help provide social skills and some integration of culture here."
There were a variety of activities, presentations and field trips during this summer's camp, all of them centered around science curriculum. Rhyne said this year's goal is to focus on the science curriculum for each grade level, while also helping students work on their literacy and English language skills.
"They went to Lula Lake first, and then on that following Thursday Creative Discovery Museum came and they did two different presentations, one called Flower Power and the other one called Roaming the Biomes," Rhyne said. "The Chattanooga Zoo came and actually brought animals for them, a snake and a rabbit, and they did a presentation called Zooper Heros and Expansion Expedition."
In addition to these activities, students heard presentations on STEM and technology, and participated in 'Cook with a Book' where they read a book and prepared a correlating recipe.
According to Rhyne, the students participating in the CATapult program have demonstrated a great deal of growth both last year and this year.
"We've watched the kids come in, barely able to communicate in English, and then make presentations entirely in English, and so we've seen a lot of growth," Rhyne said. "But what we like to say is that it's not just growth with that academic language, but it's also the way they can communicate with other students, and those social cues, and just feel comfortable being here at school. "
Much of the success of the program can be attributed to the dedication of the ESOL teachers involved. Rhyne said the teachers are all amazing and incredibly selfless.
"They just give and they give," Rhyne said. "Even though the hours are like 8-12, they're
here before and they're here late, just constantly trying to find ways to reach their students. I love to see their dedication and their passion. I love that I get to be a part of it."
Caroline Woodason, director of school support for Dalton Public Schools, oversees the CATapult program. Woodason said the program is an opportunity for English Language Learners to grow and succeed.
"The Catapult program is a great opportunity for our students who are new to the country to build background knowledge through authentic learning experiences," Woodason said. "It also gives the students additional valuable time to build English language acquisition skills in listening, reading, speaking and writing."
Like Woodason, Rhyne said this program is important for English Language Learner students, and ultimately is beneficial for everyone in the district.
"Our language learners make up a large percentage of our students. We need to be able to reach to all of our students the best way that they'll learn," Rhyne said. "CATapult provides an opportunity for our language learners to succeed. It helps them become a better learner, which in turn helps everybody else within the schools."