Milford’s ELympics event makes learning English fun

Lupita Gonzalez Rodriguez places first in fourth grade essay at last year’s ELympics competition.

MILFORD — It was a little surprising when Bridget Amory, director of student learning in the Milford School District, heard students arguing about who studied more as they walked down the halls.

The excitement for learning traces back to the ELympics, a competition geared toward English language learners in the district. The competition began last year; the second event will take place Saturday at Lulu Ross Elementary.

“The whole premise behind it was to allow the kids, who are working really hard to learn and acquire the English language, to give them an opportunity to showcase their skills in an academic setting without going against monolingual speakers that may have had more supports in the past,” said Casey Cashdollar, an English learner teacher at Ross. “It really allows them to shine and show what they can do, against kids in their own level and their own grade level.”

The competition also helps prepare students for an English proficiency test, to determine how much support they need in language.

Students can participate in the challenge at different levels of proficiency. Individual events have students highlighting their spelling, grammar and math and social studies skills. Team events allow students of different proficiency levels to work together to compete in math, grammar, creative writing and other concepts in a relay format. The event culminates in awards ceremonies where students learn how they placed.

This year’s event add some additional competitions at lower proficiency tiers, too.

“Our goal is to maximize the number of kids that can participate,” Ms. Cashdollar said.

All of the students receive packets ahead of time to study to help even the playing field, Ms. Cashdollar said.

“It gives them a purpose to study, as well, so they’re eager to learn and they’re eager to put those skills to toward something that they know they can be successful at,” she added. “By providing the community this, it allows the parents to see what the kids can do.”

If the students qualify at the school level, they move on to the district competition. One day, Dr. Amory hopes to see a state competition.

Cindy McKenzie, principal of Ross, said that 32 percent of the school population are ELL students.

A volunteer reads and judges a student’s work during last year’s ELympics competition.

Districtwide, 19 percent of the student body are ELL students, Dr. Amory said. Downstate, she noted that Milford, Indian River and Seaford school districts have the largest population of ELL students.

“We have a growing population of ELLs in our community, as well as throughout the state. And, a lot of those times, because those kids come across as being average or not necessarily meeting all the grade-level expectations, they’re not often given opportunities to show what they can do,” Ms. Cashdollar said.

“This gives them a sense of pride and a sense of purpose, to show their families and their friends and the community how they have grown, and that they can make achievements when given different avenues of success.”

Beyond the competition portion, vendors will also be at the event, with information on counseling services and library resources. Vendors like Delaware State Workforce Agency, Parents As Teachers, Polytech ESL program and La Esperanza will also have tables.

“We reached out to resources in the community that we thought would be things that would help our families, that they may not think about,” said Montessa Brooks, an English learner teacher at Ross. She noted resources like DSWA or different programming at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center may be things that families don’t know about.

“I mean, it’s right in Milford’s backyard,” she said.

An added bonus, Mrs. McKenzie said, is that it introduces families to the building.

“It gives the families the opportunity to come into school, to just actually be in the building, and then perhaps feel more comfortable about coming to school, for meetings and other things throughout the year,” she noted.

For fifth-graders Yaritza Saucedo and Lupita Gonzalez, the event is just plain fun.

Attendees and their families gather in Lulu Ross Elementary during last year’s inaugural ELympics competition.

Lupita participated last year, and will be competing again this year.

“It was great,” she said. “They asked me questions and I learned a lot, too.”

Yaritza said she is most looking forward to the speaking part of the competition.

“I want to learn more,” she added.

Overall, the two were looking forward to this year’s challenge.

“It’s like a game where you play with your friends,” Lupita said.

It’s just as fun for the families, too, Ms. Brooks added.

“The families get so excited,” she said. “They’re running up into the aisle to take pictures [during the awards ceremony], which is great. It’s awesome.”

About 75 volunteers — including staff, community members and middle and high school students — will help run the event, Ms. Brooks said.

“Last year was just an awesome day and it was amazing to see everything come together,” Dr. Amory said. “We did set the bar high in part because of the impact it had last year, so we’re really excited, and we’re excited to see it expand.”