California: Pescadero works to help English learners; Struggles with language affect other areas of study

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Aug 28 14:45:58 UTC 2007

Pescadero works to help English learners

  Struggles with language affect other areas of study

By Julia Scott, STAFF WRITER / Inside

PESCADERO — In a school district where half the students are
classified as English-language learners and more than 70 percent count
English as a second language, classrooms throughout the La
Honda-Pescadero Unified School District have had to evolve to
accommodate students with different levels of language ability. And
with the start of a new school year, the district has a new plan in
place to raise English language test scores and encourage classroom
participation by students whose parents have often just arrived from

Pescadero is partly a migrant community, and children of farm workers
often arrive at schools with little English and are shy about speaking
up in class, said Tim Beard, district superintendent. In time, the
district's English Language Development classes get those students up
to speed, but their comprehension in other core areas, such as math
and science, also is influenced by the initial language barrier.

The students' struggles to learn English has affected the school
district's overall academic performance in recent years. The district
has been placed on "program improvement" status under the No Child
Left Behind Act for its failure to meet academicbenchmarks in
English-language performance over the past five years, said Beard.
"This is a larger issue of low performance. Students are falling
behind," he said.

Patty Able, principal of both Pescadero Elementary and Middle schools,
is putting a plan in place for a more rigorous, and more personalized,
classroom learning environment for students learning English. In
addition to attending a week's worth of English Language Development
training for those who haven't yet received it, teachers will hold
regular meetings to discuss the progress of English-language learners
in their classrooms and the specific challenges they face. To ensure
that teachers have data to work from, the schools will install a new
system of "benchmark" tests for English-language learners four times a

"Teachers will have some way of knowing whether students are
progressing or not, rather than wait for the state data to show up at
the end of the year," said Able. "The goal is for teachers to know the
students really well," added Beard. "You've got a spread of language
abilities in the classes, so a teacher will need to use different
strategies of instruction." Some of those strategies include a move to
incorporate English vocabulary words into daily classes and the use of
small groups, called "peer coaching" to help young English learners
feel more comfortable expressing themselves. Bilingual students often
translate for Spanish speakers if necessary, which allows both
languages to become incorporated in the learning process.

This classroom fluidity is something parents of native English
speakers enjoy about the district, said Beard. "We have parents who
are very capable of taking their student to a private school. The
reason they don't is that they want to expose their child to the other
culture and to the other language." The La Honda-Pescadero Unified
School District isn't unusual in its high percentage of students
classified as English learners. About 50 percent of students enrolled
in the Redwood City Elementary District are so designated. The main
difference is in the size of its student body.

Redwood City Elementary schools have just over 8,500 students; the La
Honda-Pescadero Unified School District has a total of 400 students
and nearly 200 of them are English learners, according to the
California Department of Education. Part of the problem is that many
of the students who struggle in English go home to parents who speak
only Spanish and can't help them with their homework, said Beard. The
district introduced an after-school program last year to help kids
with homework. One of Beard's long-term goals is to introduce a
"parent training" program that will teach parents how to support their
children through the learning process.

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