Teens Help Teach in New English Learner Summer Program
STUDENTS | July 30, 2019
Teens Help Teach in New English Learner Summer Program

In a busy classroom at Sawyer Elementary School in Gage Park, Kassidy Torres, a senior at Curie High School, is seated at a corner table with three little boys. She’s one of four Career and Technical Education (CTE) summer interns participating in a new pilot that brings high school students together with EL students who are honing their English language skills over summer break. The combined second- and third-grade class is an optional four-week “English Learner Newcomer” summer program for new to the country EL students.

Early Childhood Education CTE students like Torres are placed into classrooms to give them a taste of life as a teacher. 

Torres picks up a black marker and writes the numbers 250 and 259. “Is that [number] bigger or smaller?” She points to the 250, then circles it for emphasis. The class on this particular day is learning how to compare numbers. Written on the front board is “equal to” “greater than >” and “less than<” for the class to work through, and Torres is helping her small group understand the vocabulary and then the math concept.

The district has been offering EL Summer Support program for years now, but inviting high school students to help teach is a first. The pilot helps students interested in a career in education gain valuable experience in the classroom, while also providing additional support for teachers, and EL students with more one-on-one tutoring.

“They’re in CTE programs at their schools for Early Childhood Education, so they need the experience of [teaching] in a classroom,” said Keli Robison, an EL program manager for the Office of Language and Cultural Education. “We also need teachers so we’re building that pipeline. We know students are interested so we’re sort of ‘growing our own.’”

The EL curriculum, Robison said, is structured around English language development, meaning everything students do is to improve their reading, listening, writing and speaking skills.

“Are they able to listen to one another, and speak about how they solved the problem?” said Robison. “Can they put that in writing? Can they read what their partner wrote?”

The summer EL curriculum includes activities for the students to better understand the English language. The CTE interns are able to help facilitate those small group activities. 

For Kassidy, this experience has made her realize that she’s interested in pursuing a teaching career.

“It makes me excited because now I want to be a teacher,” she said. “I like talking to the little kids and I like helping them.”

Abigail Camargo, another Curie HS senior, led her small group in a game of “Act It Out,” a board game in which players roll the dice and land their piece on an action such as “talk to a partner,” or “open a book.” 

Camargo is also considering becoming a teacher one day and helping with the fourth- and fifth-grade class has piqued her interest.

“I’m leaning toward teaching,” she said. “Still testing the water with education, but I like it.”


There are more than 140 different languages spoken across the district according to Robison, but here at Sawyer, the home language of many students is Spanish. Josiah Byrd, a 16-year-old intern from Curie HS, appreciates our district’s diversity and sees the benefits of engaging with students with different backgrounds.

“When I teach English, they teach me a little bit of Spanish so that’s kind of great,” he said.

This summer Byrd is helping teach a combined second and third-grade class. His students have been working on their times tables and spelling.

“They are very smart,” he said. “They told me that I make the classroom fun.”

In Khristian Redmond’s class, he said he’s also trying to keep the students eager to learn and engaged. To accomplish that, the Curie HS junior has been  reading to them and helping them write sentences. 

“They have fun with me and they love when I read to them and help them with math,” he said, adding that he’s been trying to learn Spanish, too.

Robison said she’s happy the summer interns are getting this hands-on experience and the success of this pilot program has convinced her it needs to expand to more schools. 

“We didn’t say, ‘CTE, let’s partner and do this,’ but it seems to be working,” she said. “Right now we’re impacting only four classrooms, so now we need to start thinking about how we can spread to other parts of the city.”

Camargo said she believes that more students would be interested in this internship program if given the chance. 

“I think it’s amazing to have this experience because I know a lot of people don’t get it until after high school,” she said. “ I like this internship because you’re not just in the office learning, but you’re also hands-on, and that’s what I like.”

To learn more about CTE, visit Chooseyourfuture.cps.edu