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LA HABRA : Innovative Class Uses Newspapers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not too long ago, Jaime Alvarez, a husky eighth-grader at Imperial Middle School, wasn’t interested in what newspapers have to offer.

But all that has changed, and Alvarez has found a new world on the pages of the daily paper.

“This is my first year reading the newspaper,” said Jaime, 15. “Now I like it. I didn’t think I would. School is fun too. I’m doing better than before.”

Jaime credits his change of heart to a special English class that teaches reading and language skills at a slower pace. It was in that class that he discovered newspapers and the special window on the world that they offer.

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The Language Arts and Reading Resource Special Program is geared for students who are lagging academically. The class makes a habit of reading newspapers to keep up with current events and to find stories of interest. At the same time, students learn the “power of the pen,” said Stephanie Leon, special-education teacher.

As a result of writing letters to a Brea limousine company the students read about in a newspaper recently, they have been offered a free tour of the company offices.

Many of the students, all of them boys, were referred to the class because they were slower learners than other students, behind in school or were so caught up with problems at home that they could not concentrate on their schoolwork, Leon explained.

“Some live in single-parent homes and are at high risk of joining gangs or dropping out,” she said. “Others are just a little slow in learning and can’t keep up with mainstream classes.

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“Many of these kids don’t believe anything good could happen to them. However, we are getting results from the community. Here is a union between a business and a school.”

According to Principal Betty Bidwell, the eighth-grade students need special attention because of all the outside influences they are exposed to.

“At this age, they start thinking of dropping out,” Bidwell said. “They want to make money, and the minimum wage seems like a lot of money to them. We have a large number that are really poor, and some of them feel they need to drop out to help their family.”

For students such as Jaime, reading the newspaper is a first-time experience. His mother, Josefina Alvarez, said she tries to encourage her son to study because she knows he is behind in his reading skills.

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“They tell me he is a good kid,” she said. “He missed school when he was in Mexico for about one year. He was getting F’s in his classes before. But he’s been catching up.”

One 14-year-old student, Adam Hernandez, said he is steadily improving because of the newspaper reading.

“This is the first time I had ever read the paper regularly, and I’ll probably keep reading it to see what’s happening in La Habra and in other cities,” he said.

Special-education teacher Leon said she rewards students with small prizes for improved writing and reading skills.

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“They respond to immediate rewards,” she said. “If they get to go on a field trip, well, that’s wonderful. It gets them what they want. You have to show them what’s in it for them right now and what’s going to happen to them if they don’t improve.


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