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New educational program garners rave reviews


Last updated 5/22/2008 at Noon

At Vallecitos School in Rainbow, fourth grade students have had a unique opportunity to be part of a revolutionary educational program championed by Fallbrook resident Professor Cliff Sumrall.

On May 23, school administrators invited visitors to witness a sample of the incredible progress the fourth grade has achieved in a relatively short time.

Since its inception, at the start of the 2007-2008 school year, these children have been immersed in a multidimensional approach to education. It involves utilizing the art of oratory in their curriculum.

“I am moving these students from rote memory to thinking,” said Sumrall, an educator at Palomar College. “I’m saying we need to teach young students how to think.”

The nucleus of this program is having their studies incorporated into this rhetoric program. The teacher writes a topic on the board and a student whom the instructor chooses has seconds to mentally glean the information and give a speech in front of their classmates.

The child introduces the topic, says Sumrall, gains the attention of the whole class, announces two points of reference in the topic addressed and goes back to speak on each one of them.

“Then they must summarize what they have said and conclude it by being reflective in the sense that they go back to the introduction,” explained Sumrall. “The emphasis is on doing organizational structure and thinking about words in their heads, as opposed to regurgitating things.”

“I think it is a wonderful program for a variety of reasons,” said Gary Lewis, principal of Vallecitos Elementary. “The kids are learning writing and speaking skills; it gives them good character qualities, assurance and courage.”

Evidence has shown that promoting the art of student oratory is moving the curriculum forward. Adopting the linguistic talents of students helps with their retention and eradicates the fear of public speaking.

Another part of this revolutionary program, says Sumrall, is actively involving the students’ listening skills.

“The students who are not participating are sitting there with evaluation sheets and they are looking at it from a listening point of view,” said Sumrall, “and they evaluate the organizational structure.”

A teacher appoints one of the children listening to stand in front of their classmates and provide their own detailed assessment. Knowing that they could be picked to speak, children listen keenly to their teacher and classmates.

Organizational structure, says Sumrall, carries over into writing.

“When a student writes a paper, they will introduce the topic, talk about it in two parts, summarize it and conclude it,” he said. “It’s providing something we don’t get in elementary school in terms of writing.”

This linguistic program is teaching children that they have sheer brilliance inside of them. “All you have to do is tap into it,” Sumrall said. “The children absolutely love this program.”

Last month, these fourth grade students had the chance of taking a mini field trip to Palomar College. In Sumrall’s speech class, the children performed their oratory talent to adult students.

“Their posture was beautiful, language was beautiful and organization was beautiful,” said Sumrall. “I just wanted to cry sitting there looking at these little kids.”

Before the 32 children left, their exit was met with a standing ovation from the Palomar students.

Carol Watson, a fourth grade teacher at Vallecitos, added, “Another very important benefit emerged from our journey, and that was the desire of many of my students to go to college. It has been a tremendous adventure and one that I feel should continue each year.”

“I believe that I am on the cutting edge of tapping young minds and showing people and the kids themselves just how brilliant they truly are,” said Sumrall.

The overall success of the program has garnered enthusiasm from Vallecitos’ superintendent, principal and teachers, said Sumrall.

Wayne Tortorella, a third grade teacher at Vallecitos, said he brainstormed with Sumrall after created a public speaking program for his third grade class last year.

“It was so wonderful to see these 8- and 9-year-olds progress from shy, nervous and sometimes stuttering speakers to ones who couldn’t wait to give their speeches,” Tortorella said. “I spoke with Cliff Sumrall and he was thinking on the same wavelength. We agreed to create a formal program for grades four to eight.”

Senators Mark Wyland and Dennis Hollingsworth are supporting Sumrall’s program. Word is also spreading to the Education Committee at the State level. Sumrall says he would happily travel around to teach school districts how to incorporate this oratory program into their everyday curriculum.

The fourth grade portion of the program focuses on impromptu speaking and the fifth grade learns informative speaking, while students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades are utilizing persuasion speaking methods.

For Sumrall, educating the youth means nourishing their self-esteem. “It’s making them realize that they are important people and far beyond what they think they are.”


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