Concern grows over English Language Development program

For many years, San Marin has been having problems with its English Language Development (ELD) program. Many students and teachers feel like they are not getting enough resources and the proper curriculum to succeed in English acquisition.

Arturo Ruvalcaba is a senior taking ELD 3 this semester. Ruvalcaba has improved his writing and reading skills but there are certain aspects he would like to change about the program, specifically the way classes are organized.

“We’ve been doing the same stuff for a while now. Same tests, same everything.  We need to be in a class where it isn’t repetitive,” Ruvalcaba said. “I think if the school were able to hire more teachers to teach ELD, we would be able to have more confidence in our English to take higher level classes like AP.”

Lorenzo Ochoa is a junior who has been taking ELD for several years now. He also feels the program can be improved.  “I feel like we’ve never done anything different or tried anything new. We keep doing the same assignments and tests,” Ochoa said.

The ELD Program has changed drastically throughout the years. One of the biggest changes is that ELD teachers are required to go through training known as the “Kevin Clark System,” which is a strategy to teach English language acquisition.  While the teachers and administrators are keen to further improve the program, like offering new coaching approaches, it isn’t enough for some students.

“I’ve been taking ELD for two years now. We never read any books and we always keep going over vocabulary words. I’m tired of it,” an anonymous ELD student said.

The structure of the program, as well as the curriculum, is a problem. Advanced students, known as ‘Level 3’ students, are being placed in classes with ‘Level 2’ and ‘Level 1’ students.

Students who know little to no English are the ones being impacted the most. They are expected to succeed and pass their main-stream college preparatory classes like Chemistry, Algebra 2, Biology, World History, etc., despite only knowing simple vocabulary which adds pressure and unnecessary stress.

It’s not only Spanish speaking students that are having trouble learning English. There are Chinese, Korean, Thai, Haitian and Ethiopian students that are having a difficult time as well.

“I have two kids in my English class that hardly speak any English, so to expect them to do the same work as somebody who’s been here their whole life is a lot to ask of them,” English teacher Elizabeth Lloyd says.

Lloyd teaches English 9 and ELD 3. She has previously worked at Terra Linda High School and Dougherty Valley High School. This is her third year teaching ELD.

“I teach the higher level kids so they’re okay in their English classes. I just can’t imagine how overwhelming it must be for a Level 1 or 2 student to be expected to comprehend a class like Chemistry when their vocabulary is so limited. It’s a disservice to them,” she added.

Ryan Berberian has been teaching ELD 1 for three years and understands how one period of ELD per day would not be enough for someone who is new to the country.

“It’s a question of how to find people to devote more time to helping these students and to have them achieve equity with the other students. One ELD class on its own is not enough of a support to give them the same access to content that every other student has,” Berberian says.

Incoming students that have minimal knowledge of English  would benefit from an intervention for more intense language training instead of fifty minutes a day, he added. “We need to realize that they’re a big portion of our community and we need to help them the best that we can,” ELD 2 teacher Damon Uriarte said.

All three teachers agreed that the most beneficial way to help students struggling would be to provide them with English aides throughout the day to translate and help with their everyday curriculum.

Teachers on campus are finding it difficult to accommodate ELD students in their regular class. Adam Green has 31 ELD students throughout his Algebra 2, Geometry and Personal Finance classes.

“I have always found it difficult in the math class to accommodate the needs of ELD students. In my years teaching, I’ve heard many people say that math is like a second language of its own. I can’t imagine how difficult it is trying to learn a language that is being taught in another language that I can’t understand,” Green said.

Wesley Swedlow has eight ELD students in his English classes and is also having a difficult time trying to adjust his curriculum to help the struggling students.

“I think we should have more teachers in equity training so that there’s more of an understanding of cultural issues and differences. We also need more bilingual teachers,” Swedlow said.

Students are required to take the California English Language Development Test. The CELDT allows schools to identify students who need to improve their skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing in English. Schools also give the test each year to students who are still learning English.

There has also been talk of a newcomer class program from Principal Mark Sims, so that students who enter school in the middle of the year can catch up in the summer. An example would be sending the students to SFUSD, a school located in San Francisco that specializes in helping them achieve the California Common Core standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

“I would want the newcomers to have a support class instead of having to take a regular English class,” Principal Mark Sims said.

His plans for changing the program include implementing a new tutoring system that includes a bilingual aide and another ELD teacher  tutor to mentor the student, much like AVID’s homework help program. He hopes the students will get to learn other skills like critical thinking and organization skills. Sims also wants to implement aids to follow the students in their regular classes, like science and math, so they get the necessary support wherever they go.