Georgetown Current

Local Partnership Helps Fight Kids’ Summer Learning Slump

July 31, 2013

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Since launching in D.C. in 2010, Tales2Go, a mobile app service that streams children’s audiobooks, has expanded to classrooms and homes all over the country, and won several parents-choice awards. But this summer the educational company is focusing on a goal close to home.

During the vacation months, Tales2Go has been working to help shrink the opportunity gap for some students just a mile north of its Foxhall headquarters.

At St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, where a summer enrichment program serves economically disadvantaged students, participants can access a wide variety of Tales2Go titles such as “Little Women,” “The Hunger Games” and “Pete the Cat.”

By partnering with the enrichment program — called Horizons Greater Washington — Tales2Go is working to help prevent the academic learning slump known in the education world as “summer learning loss.” The loss is prevalent among students who have little access to educational programs outside the regular academic year.

Tales2Go CEO William Weil has always wanted his tool to be used in all types of classrooms. Through the Horizons collaboration, he said, his service is helping “kids who normally don’t have certain kinds of resources push them along in their reading.”

Weil, a former television executive at National Geographic and Nickelodeon, co-founded Tales2Go with his wife, Tracey, to make their children’s learning experience easier and more engaging. According to the Weils, listening to audiobooks improves a child’s ability to listen, comprehend reading materials, build a vocabulary and pronounce words.

In the past three years, their product has become a popular education tool, merging the traditions of storytelling with today’s newest mobile gadgets.

For Horizons Greater Washington, the new partnership with Tales2Go helps “build [students] up and then augment them with an enriching experience,” said the program’s executive director, Maria Barry.

Horizons is a nonprofit that has been helping students from low-income families maintain and improve their academic outcomes since 2000. Currently, it partners with three private schools — Maret, St. Patrick’s and Norwood in Bethesda — to host summer and yearlong programs for students attending local public elementary schools H.D. Cooke, Bancroft and Rock Creek Forest. For the summer, the nonprofit offers six-week programs with a mixed curriculum of math, art, reading, writing, field trips and recreation.

Head teacher Katherine Orlando’s students — who will be entering third grade at Bancroft Elementary in Mount Pleasant this fall — are among the first in the Horizons summer program to experience Tales2Go.

During a 30-minute scheduled reading session, Orlando sets up three rotating learning stations. At these areas, each group of five students spends 15 to 20 minutes working on reading and comprehension skills with Orlando or an assistant teacher.

One of these stations is an independent listening section, where students can hook up headphones to an iPhone, iPod or iPad and tune in to their chosen story, streamed from the Tales2Go app.

Some students have also opted for listening to audio stories during non-scheduled learning times such as breakfast at school or on the bus, said Orlando.

A student who was bored on the bus even asked his teacher if he could use her iPhone to listen to “Zombies Don’t Play Soccer” from Tales2Go. Orlando said she was glad to oblige.

“I like Tales2Go because I like to listen and imagine the pictures in my mind,” said Joshua Kiprono, 7.

Some of his classmates attest that using Tales2Go also helps them understand the context of their books. “It helps you read fluently,” said 7-year-old Alfredo Ortiz-Hernandez.

Although a thorough assessment of the partnership won’t occur until after the summer program is over, Orlando said she thinks her students are understanding their reading material much better now that they’re listening to assigned books on a regular schedule.

“Sometimes you spend so much time teaching them just how to decode a book that you’re not working on their comprehension skills,” she said. “This has been a great tool to help them with their comprehension skills.”


This article appears in the July 31 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.

Group Seeks ‘Summer Miracles’ with Adoptions

July 24, 2013

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

Last year, 10-year-old Andres came to the U.S. from Colombia as part of the annual Kidsave Summer Miracles program, which brings orphans and foster children to the States in search of adoptive parents.

Andres, now 11, was adopted and lives with a family in Northwest D.C. And now the Palisades-based group is hoping for another miracle: a D.C.-area home for his 14-year-old sister, Liseth, who was left behind in Colombia.

Liseth is one of nine Colombian children staying with volunteer host families in the D.C. area through the program, which will continue through the end of July.

Earlier this month, Liseth and Andres were embracing and goofing around together at a play area at the Lab School, which was hosting a Kidsave pizza-making event. Host families compared notes, and a translator was there to help address language barriers. Most of the children did not speak English, and not every adult spoke Spanish, but cooking side-by-side allowed everyone to at least interact tactically.

The next event, the Kidsave Olympics, will take place in Annandale, Va., from 1 to 3 p.m. this coming Saturday (To reserve a spot, contact

Kidsave works with children ages 8 to 13 — older than the typical adoption age — from countries including Colombia, Russia and Kazakhstan. Organization president Terry Baugh said Summer Miracles, now in its 15th year, has brought more than 1,700 children to the U.S., with 80 percent of them adopted.

That rate of success in placing youths in adoptive families, Baugh said, has been “remarkable.”

The group pays particular attention to repeats, she said. Two of the nine Colombians at the Lab School event — 14-year-old Carolina and 11-year-old Alejandra — also participated last summer but were not adopted.

“It’s through no fault of their own,” said Baugh. “They seem like they’d be a good fit for a family. We’d like to advocate particularly hard for them.”

Liseth is another priority. It wasn’t until Andres became more comfortable with English that his adopted family learned that he still had family back in Colombia.

Baugh was taken aback when she learned that Andres and Liseth had been separated. Her program works closely with the Colombian government, and most governments try to prevent sibling separation. After several inconclusive meetings with representatives from the country, Baugh ventured a guess that Liseth might have been kept there over concerns that she had become too old for adoption.

All the children in Kidsave stay with Summer Miracles volunteer host families, who spend the next month making a full-court press for their visitors.

The host families bring their Colombian visitors to weekly events with prospective adopting parents and encourage the adults to spend time with the children — taking them to family dinners and engaging them in summer activities, such as outings to local swimming pools or board game nights.

Baugh believes pairing volunteer families with these children, if even for a month, motivates the adults to find a permanent place for the kids. “When people have children in their homes, a lot of them fall in love,” she said. “They’re more than willing to do outreach to help the child. Some go to extraordinary lengths.”

Liseth — along with Esperanza, 13 — is staying with hosts Elisa Rapaport and Michael Schoenbaum in Bethesda. Liseth and Esperanza, whom Baugh described as quiet and artistic, speak only Spanish — but there’s an app for that. Rapaport says she has been communicating through her own limited Spanish, charades and a translator program on her iPad.

This is Rapaport’s second summer hosting a child from Colombia. Her last guest was an 11-year-old girl who was adopted by a family earlier this month.

This article appears in the July 24 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

1 Comment   Click here to share your thoughts.

George Draws Neighbor Protests Over Request to Double Occupancy Limit

July 16, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown community leaders have protested an application by George, the nightlife hotspot at 3251 Prospect St., to terminate a settlement agreement that caps its number of patrons.

Owners of George signed the document — previously called a voluntary agreement — years ago with the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission and the Citizens Association of Georgetown. The agreement’s terms limit the restaurant’s capacity to 99 patrons, while the building is large enough to legally hold 200.

“We’re seeking to modify our voluntary agreement in order to increase capacity for limited windows during the weekend,” George co-owner Reed Landry wrote in an email to The Current. “This will allow us to host a variety of private and corporate events that we’re currently not able to accommodate.”

Some residents say George sometimes acts more like a bar than a restaurant, though its license identifies it as the latter. (George’s website describes it as “a neighborhood restaurant & tavern,” as well as a “prep bar,” and boasts that it was picked in a 2010 Washington Post poll as “the preppiest place in Washington.”)

With just 35 seats and a handful of menu items, “that doesn’t really sound like a restaurant to us,” said the citizens association’s Jennifer Altemus.

“It would be nice if they could serve some more food,” neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said in a separate interview.

Landry — who has been involved in a number of nightlife ventures in Georgetown and Glover Park, including co-owning Mason Inn at 2408 Wisconsin Ave. — rejects such criticisms. He wrote that George has “never had an issue satisfying our food requirement,” referring to the city’s regulation that restaurants like his make 45 percent of their sales from food or at least $2,000 per occupant annually.

Starrels said yesterday that negotiations with George are proceeding and include issues of menu selection and seating capacity. The neighborhood commission voted unanimously at its July 1 meeting to file its protest; the citizens association had already done so. The protest procedure allows parties time to negotiate and ideally reach an accord, and a public hearing follows if that does not occur.

Neighbors have also complained of being woken up by George’s loud patrons, Altemus said. “We have heard from various people there is noise resulting from people waiting in line and coming and going through the courtyard,” she said.

Also, Altemus said some nearby restaurants “aren’t happy with the clientele that George brings in … the number of people who are younger and more boisterous.”

“We’ve had a few issues and the bottom line is, if you double the numbers, the chances of something becoming more of an issue is greatly increased,” said Starrels.

Landry said that logic doesn’t apply to the situation at George. “The main noise issue we deal with is when we’re at capacity and patrons are forced to wait in line outside the courtyard,” he wrote. “By increasing the capacity to that which is allowed by the fire marshal, it will likely alleviate any noise issues that currently exist.”

This latest effort is George’s second attempt to terminate its agreement with the community. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board rejected an application submitted several years ago, a decision that was upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Starrels said he’s hopeful a compromise will be reached this time, citing “good rapport” and regular discussions with the restaurant’s representative.

This article appears in the July 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.