Park City High School raising money to send kids to Catalina Island |

Park City High School raising money to send kids to Catalina Island

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

What if you had to move to a foreign country without knowing the language, people or culture? What if you were also a student who had to figure all this out while trying to keep up with your studies? And what if, on top of all that, you had to work nearly full-time?

For many English Language Learner students at Park City High School, this isn’t a "what if," it is a reality. "When they walk into this school," Park City High School Principal Hilary Hays said, "their playing field is anything but level. If we want these kids to assimilate, we have to level the playing field."

ELL assistant Scooter Mastain has an idea on how to do just that. Last fall while going for a hike to admire the foliage around him, Mastain thought "ELL students need to experience this."

The "this" he was referring to was not just hiking, but the environment and geography of the United States in general. "They don’t have a sense of place when they come here," he said. "They know that they’re in Utah, but that’s about it.

"These students don’t understand hiking because they have to work 30 to 40 hours a week outside of school. We need to give them an opportunity to understand why we care about air and water."

Mastain grew up in southern California. In eighth and ninth grade, he went to the Catalina Island Camp, which is on an island off the coast of California. In college, he was a counselor there for two years. "This camp made me who I am today," he said. "I want to help kids who would not normally have the opportunity to go to camp.

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"I want them to get a chance to see Catalina and have an appreciation of the varied geography in the United States." Mastain said the camp is very environmentally-based, so "they can return to school with a new-found interest and desire to really succeed in science."

Mastain shared his idea with Hays and the two decided to look for ways to fund the program. They presented it to the community council, a group of parents and teachers who work on school improvement and meeting the needs of all students, and who oversee state Trust Land money, Hays said.

The community council gave the first $1,000 toward the project, and one member promised to sponsor a student on their own, which costs about $2,700. "Our goal is to send three kids," Hays said, "which is about $10,000, but if we could, we would send 10."

Hays hopes that through this program the school can show ELL students that the Park City community cares about them and wants them to succeed. "It absolutely brings them leadership potential," she said. "It’s also one avenue to generate interest in attendance and organize their lives with values that are in accordance with the values of Park City." Hays described Park City’s values as scientifically and environmentally focused.

For students like 11th grader Jovany Reyes, being at Park City High School isn’t easy. "It’s been really difficult for me to learn another language and be in school with Americans," he said softly in Spanish as Mastain and student Shelly Juarez translated.

Mastain showed Reyes and Juarez a poster board filled with pictures from his trips to Catalina Island Camp. He talked about all the environmental activities and about how they could someday turn that knowledge into a job as a marine biologist.

"Do we need to pay?" Juarez asked. Mastain explained that the school is trying to raise money for students who work really hard to go there. "I’d like to go to that place," Juarez said. "It looks pretty."

Mastain said one of the major problems for ELL students is that they’re learning content and language, and it’s pulling them in different directions.

"I go to several classes each day, and I get to observe four or five different teaching styles," he said, "and each of these styles are great, but because they are so varied and these students have to learn content and language at the same time, there’s no unifying core for them."

Beyond language barriers, ELL students also have to deal with racism. Juarez said that while the school is welcoming overall, some people are not. "Some people come directly to you, and some say it behind your back," she said.

Despite all these obstacles, Hays said these students are succeeding. "I’m always amazed at what these kids can do from where they come from," she said, "watching them read in English when I know a year ago that they couldn’t."

To learn more about helping send Park City High School’s ELL students to Catalina Island Camp, come to the informational meeting on Tuesday, January 8 at 2:30 p.m. in the high school library.