This story was originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Harker Quarterly
More than one hundred international students this summer sought out Harker’s well-established English Language Institute (ELI) to bolster their English skills and their academic prospects in the United States.
The ELI students, aged six to 16, came primarily from Asia, but a variety of continents were represented with students attending from such diverse countries as Russia, Bolivia, Brazil and Ethiopia.
According to ELI director Anthony Wood, many students come to the program to increase their chances of admission to college preparatory boarding schools in the U.S. A few have been “admitted conditionally and referred to the program by their admissions directors,” he said.
As a mature program ELI provides a good look at U.S. and California culture. While the focus is on learning English, cultural adventures this year included visits to the Roaring Camp Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the San Jose Tech Museum and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
While in the Monterey area, the group stopped at the Carmel Mission for some historical context on California’s development. U.S. history was integrated into the curriculum to give students moving on to American schools a good background for learning more about the U.S.
This year Jared Ramsey, Harker lower school history teacher, taught a specialized curriculum introducing major events that have shaped the U.S. “He added great variety and expertise to our program,” said Wood, “and the students really enjoyed his creative teaching methods.”
The students also enjoyed ELI’s enrichment program, in which they continued learning after 3:30 through activities. The younger students swam and played games. On Mondays and Fridays they joined the summer camp program at Bucknall.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to immerse themselves with American kids who speak English as their first language,” said Wood.
The most advanced students, usually aged 14-16, stayed at the Saratoga campus and worked on special projects tailored to their needs. For many, that meant SAT preparation. They were assisted by mentors (sometimes called buddies), often Harker juniors, seniors or recent graduates.
Teacher Lyle Davidson said ELI students arrive with a pretty good understanding of grammar, but they often need help in other areas. “The SAT asks very tricky questions in reading comprehension,” he explained. “Buddies … are able to take a teaching role and model how they would confront the problem – and they do it all in English.”
Mentor Brian Lee, a 2010 Harker graduate, said he really enjoyed hanging out with the students. They talk about music a lot, he said, and, with the natural curiosity of young people, “they ask questions about our personal lives, like where we come from.”
The school days were long, but Huu Li, from Vietnam, said his teacher made the time fly. “He’s very funny. He knows how to make the students feel happy and never feel tired when we study.”