ESL reading class tops in national competition




An English as a Second Language reading class at Garden City High School recently was named a national winner in 2012's Achieve 3000 "Read to Succeed" contest.

Students in the sixth hour English Second Language Level 1 Reading class at GCHS out-scored students from across the nation in the areas of comprehension, argumentative and informative answers to thought questions.

"They had to read 40 articles in one semester to even enter the contest, and they had to score at least 75 percent or higher on the comprehension questions. And so, if they qualify, then you have the option to enter them or not," their teacher, Heather Kneeland, said.

Ma Myint, 16, originally from Thailand, described their winning as, "so exciting."

Contest winners included: Aribaldo Alonso Valadez, Ana Amador Herrera, I Sha Bi, Rebeca Castillo-Martinez, Tania Cisneros Cisneros, Ingrid Escobar Rivera, Yensi Escobar Rivera, Aileen Garcia, Armando Guerrero Rodrigues, Sabaha Hassen, Luis Mendez Quinteros, Ma Myint, Ar Nat, Andres Pallares Salazar, Say Paw, Jose Quezada Ibarra, Guillermina Romero, Vu Vo, Ju Wa Yah, and Khei Youm.

When they first started the program last semester, Kneeland said her students' grades dropped but then they came back up.

"All of their grades, when we first started, went in the tank. And they were like 'Oh my gosh Miss.' And I would tell them, 'It's OK. It's OK,'" she said. "Most of them have Bs, a couple of As. For as hard a program as it is, I mean, that's good."

She said the program requires the students to be involved readers.

"This is an interactive computer program — they are completely involved. There are polls they get to answer and give their opinions at the beginning, then they read the article," Kneeland said. "They get very specific vocabulary, and everything is at their reading level, because before they even start, the computer gives them a test to determine where they are at. So all the kids may have the same article, but they're all at different levels."

Kneeland also said that if a student's reading level, or Lexile®, is low enough, the program allows him or her to listen to the text while reading it.

"And then once they hit a certain point, it won't let them listen anymore, but they can still listen to all the vocabulary," she said.

After the students are done reading an article, the computer generates a question, either argumentative or informative, which she goes over with them before they each write their answers.

"We started out with five sentences and they're up to 10 now, writing a good paragraph, how to answer it, form their opinion and then back it up with evidence," she said. "For most of these kids, the level they're at, they should be writing three- to five-paragraph essays, but for them to get a good 10-sentence paragraph is phenomenal, so I'm totally a proponent of this program."

According to its website,, Achieve Language provides the extra support English language learners need to "do double the work" — to become proficient in English (language knowledge) and to meet end-of-course and graduation requirement (content area knowledge).

Ingrid Escobar Rivera, 17, is originally from Honduras and has only been in the country for a year and a half. Kneeland said that Ingrid's reading level has increased by a whole grade level in the past four months.

"But she works really hard, too. She doesn't quit," Kneeland said.

Ana Amador, 15, arrived in Garden City two years ago from Mexico and said the program has helped her a lot, as well.

"You read a lot, you write a lot, you have to think and then also your teacher explains to you very well what you have to do, and that's the way you can understand, to help you to understand more," Ana said.

The program was hard for Ingrid at first, and her scores were bad.

"I was very upset, but Miss Kneeland told me it was my first score, so I can't worry about it — that I will get a better score the next time. And I'm like, 'OK Miss,'" Ingrid said. "I was very nervous. The first time, I got 100, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh! I got 100!' And I was saying to Miss, 'I feel good. I feel like I am doing a good job, and I feel comfortable now with this.'"

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