George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Community Collaborates to Focus on Literacy for English Language Learners

C.P. Squires Elementary School harnesses parents, businesspeople, and retirees for academic and financial support and to staff after-school programs. Read the article.
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A Community Collaborates to Focus on Literacy for English Language Learners (Transcript)

Narrator: It's the dream of every educator. Here at C. P. Squires Elementary, children are so eager to learn, they burst through the schoolyard gates every morning.

Teacher: Hey, boys and girls, today, while you're eating, we're going to read this story, "The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree."

Narrator: Before the school day even begins, they are treated to bagels and books.

Teacher: What do you think the Berenstain Bears are going to do with a Christmas tree?

Narrator: Since 90 percent of Squires incoming students don't speak a word of English, literacy is the school's primary focus.

Carol: The only hope our Hispanic youngsters have, I believe, is to master English, and then they will truly be bilingual. I say to the parents, it's your responsibility to teach them Spanish in your home, and please do that, and it's our responsibility to teach them English, and then they will have all their world open to them. And so I really believe that poverty and second language are absolutely not any excuse for not teaching children to read.

Teacher: A, B, Cs, and counting, one--

Narrator: Teachers here use a variety of techniques to teach and reinforce English language skills, from memorizing months with the Macarena..

All: May, June, July, August, September--

Narrator: To learning letters with a talking mat.

Teacher: C. What sound does C make?

Carol: What I guaranteed each teacher was that if they would just slow down their speech, and teach everything three different ways, that these little five year olds are like sponges, and they will pick it up. And the brain research supports that dramatically. The first year it was very scary, because we weren't sure. Now we're positive. We know that it works, and when they go into first grade, we have 98 percent mastery of all letters and sounds.

Narrator: Technology plays a key role in advancing reading skills.

Tracey: I have 30-some students, and it's hard to sit down with one child every day. They go on the computer every day for 15 minutes, and it's just individualized for them.

Computer Voice: Find the balloon, T.

Tracey: They learn to write their names, they learn the A, B, Cs, and then they focus on each letter individually. And then they advance when they know that letter, they test themselves.

Student: The truck had to squeeze to stop to avoid running over Sammy.

Narrator: Students also get individual attention from older students, who act as their reading buddies. And from volunteer mentors like Thomas Washington.

Thomas: Tell me that sound. What is that sound?

Student: C-- C--

Thomas: Very good.

I was in the third grade, before I really learned how to decode and how to read, and read successfully. So I feel that I have to share it, because I had a strong person that helped me when I was in school.

Well, what is 14 times 5? Now you can use the pen if you want, but I want you to use your head. This is called mental math.

The more smart kids we have, the better our future will be. The more kids that are able to take care of themselves and provide for themselves, the better we're going to be.

Student: Twenty-five.

Thomas: Right.

Tracey: Oh, you've got a big book.

Narrator: The school has received several grants, and partnered with local business to start innovative programs like this monthly book giveaway.

Tracey: What did you pick? Baby Animals.

A lot of these children don't have many books in the homes.

There you go, that's yours to keep forever.

They have several children at home, parents don't have much money to go buy books, so this lets them have books that are theirs to keep at home, to read with little brothers and sisters, and uncles and aunts, and mom and dad.

Doctor: Here, put this under your tongue.

Narrator: A new medical clinic at C. P. Squires also serves three other schools in the neighborhood.

Carol: Now we have a health center on our campus. We can take care of dental, vision, any kind of problem, any kind of cold, flu, whatever.

Doctor: Do you wear your seatbelt?

Parent: I would, but we don't have a car.

Doctor: Oh. Okay.

Carol: I like to think of it as a one stop community center, and it should be. The hub of society, I think should be the school.

Narrator: Lark is addressing the needs of all family members in the community with an array of after school programs centered around preschool literacy.

All: Green, blue, orange, red.

Carol: As soon as the kindergarteners go home in the afternoon, I have three groups of four year olds that come into those classrooms, and we start doing basically the same program that we do during the day, with the guidance of a licensed teacher.

All: A star!

Teacher: Number one, John is a student.

All: John is a student.

Teacher: He isn't a teacher.

Carol: We knew we had to meet the needs of the entire family, so by working with the middle school across the street, the parents go across the street and get English lessons, which is going to enhance their future in terms of job potential and all the older siblings, they have many choices. Like, right now, we have intramural soccer going on, we have ballet--

Teacher: Seven, and-- one, two, three, four, five, six--

Carol: And we have line dancing.

Leah: The biggest thing, building self esteem. They didn't think they'd be able to perform. First of all, they couldn't even do the first dance. They said, we can't do this. Now they know three dances, we're working on, The Cowboy Hip Hop. I told the girls they can't dance in sneakers, because you don't look like a cowgirl if you're dancing in sneakers. So a lot of them have not had the means to get cowboy boots, so I have six pairs, and I lend them out and they wear big socks, and a couple of them I bought myself, and hopefully Santa Claus will bring them boots.

Carol: These teachers are caring teachers. I hire for heart first. I can train, I can teach anything. But you have to hire for people who thrive on that feeling. It feels so good when children succeed. You saw their faces. They're happy and they're growing and they're learning. I mean, it doesn't get any better than that.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Roberta Furger
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Jeremy Settles


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Editor's Note: Carlos Garcia moved on from the Clark County School District in 2005. He now serves as superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. Former Squires principal Carol Lark has also left the Clark County School District, and is now superintendent of a school district in northern Nevada.

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Late-Night Learning: Alternative Scheduling for the School Day
This unique school caters to students with full-time day jobs.

A Community Collaborates in Education
C.P. Squires Elementary School harnesses parents, businesspeople, and retirees for academic and financial support and staff after-school programs.

Simulating Environments: Real-Life Replicas Engage Students A rain forest dome and a mock-up of a silver mine enhance science learning in Clark County, Nevada.

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