Hundreds of bilingual students celebrate success

Hundreds of bilingual students celebrate success

Hundreds of proud parents looked on as their children accepted
awards for an accomplishment they had struggled so hard to achieve
– grasping the often-puzzling nuances of the English
Hundreds of proud parents looked on as their children accepted awards for an accomplishment they had struggled so hard to achieve themselves – grasping the often-puzzling nuances of the English language.

“Conversation, not just reading and writing, is so important,” said Cristina Jacobo, the mother of 8-year-old Esteban, a Las Animas Elementary School student who was reclassified as an English speaker Monday evening. “He’s done well being able to master both languages. This is an indication here tonight.”

Jacobo’s son joined more than 350 of his fellow Gilroy Unified School District students at Christopher High School for a reclassification ceremony that featured more than 100 more than last year. Lorena Tariba, the school district’s program administrator for migrant education, pointed to the district’s increased efforts on teacher training and a new process for reclassification as reasons for the higher number of students.

Using a new program called E.L. Achieve, the district believes it has been able to move more students struggling with English toward proficiency, Tariba said. Additionally, the district has divided the reclassification process into two sections – one that takes place in the fall after one set of standardized test scores is available and another in the spring when an additional set of scores is released.

Like her students, Tariba knows that becoming fluent in English is no easy task. Tariba immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when she was 24 as a college student. Even after several years of high school English lessons, she still brought a tape recorder to all her university lectures to help her take notes. As a non-native speaker, Tariba too would have been classified as an English learner.

“As an adult, you’re so self-conscious,” she said. “That is one of the factors that plays out a little differently with kids. They’re so spontaneous. They just go for it. They don’t have many of the inhibitions we have as adults. It’s such a natural process for them.”

Linda Delgadillo, the mother of Diego, a fourth grader at Las Animas, also came to the U.S. as a young adult and learned early on the importance of mastering English. She watched as her son, dressed smartly in a checkered collared shirt, accepted his certificate for reclassification.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “This is really a surprise for me.”

The reclassification process was a bit easier for Delgadillo’s fifth-grade daughter, Monzerrat, who was reclassified two years ago, she said.

“She got the English so fast,” Delgadillo said. “For him, it has not been as easy.”

The process can take several years for some students and no time at all for others, Tariba said. Upon entering the district, families take a home language survey, she explained. If a language other than English is the first language a child learned to speak, if English is not the language spoken in the home or if English is not the child’s dominant language, that child is classified as an English learner. Those students are then given the California English Language Development Test.

“If they ace the test, we proceed immediately with reclassification,” Tariba said. If not, the student enrolls in a series of bilingual classes – some of which take years to complete – before retaking the test. Success on the test, along with positive teacher and parent evaluations and success on additional standardized tests, qualifies a student for reclassification.

The test assesses listening and speaking skills of English learners in kindergarten and first grade, and listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in grades two through 12. The skills and vocabulary tested become progressively more advanced as the children age.

“I would like to tell you, the students, how proud I am of each of you,” school district Superintendent Deborah Flores summed up. “You have worked hard and deserve to be recognized tonight for this outstanding achievement. We expect great things from each of you. You have taken the first step in demonstrating the desire to make your dreams come true. As Walt Disney once said, ‘All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.'”

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