Emberlynn Garcia is an example of success. She took an English Learner (EL) class in 6th grade at George Flamson Middle School in Paso Robles.
“It taught me how to perfect my English and how to write in English, how to do paragraphs, how to write a story, and that helped me a lot because in that class I was able to pass the exam, so I can get an elective,” said Cruz, who is now in 8th grade.
Cruz is one of five in her household where Spanish is the main means of communication.
Eustolia Garcia, Emberlynn’s mom, said she speaks Spanish to her kids because they are learning English at school. That way, she learns English from them while her children keep their Spanish.
Garcia, though, is a Spanish learner herself.
Garcia said her first language is Mixteco, a Mexican Indigenous Language. She understands what it means to learn a second language, but she is on a mission to get her family to be trilingual.
Garcia said she teaches her kids basic words in Mixteco, Spanish and English.
“I want to communicate with my grandparents because they talk Mixteco,” added Cruz.
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According to the California Department of Education, 18% of all students enrolled in public schools across the state are English learners and for 82% of them, Spanish is their first language.
“We're always trying to promote the idea of being bilingual and knowing two languages and all the benefits that comes with it,” said Peter Perneel, an English Learner teacher at George Flamson Middle School.
According to the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, there are 1,286 EL students at their schools.
The goal of an EL class is to get students reclassified.
“When a student is reclassified, it means that they are English proficient and they no longer need an ELD class for support, which means they are now able to take a mainstream class at their grade level and they may choose an elective,” explained Perneel.
Monica Pafumi, the principal at Virginia Peterson Elementary, gave a presentation during Tuesday’s board meeting about the number of students learning English.
“In 2021-2022 we reclassified 19 students from kindergarten to 5th grade,” explained Pafumi. “So far this school year, we have already reclassified 20 students from 1st to 5th grade and there are 10 more students that could be reclassified before the end of the year.”
“I believe last year at Flamson we had 52 students who were reclassified,” added Perneel.
(EL) teachers are encouraged to speak slowly and to enunciate clearly.
“You can also have the student take advantage of the teacher’s contextual clues such as facial expressions, also gestures, visuals, props,” said Perneel.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a huge disruption for students, especially EL students.
“We noticed that a lot of students, EL students that is, didn’t participate and they didn’t participate just because of the academics but also because they had other things to consider such as taking care of a little brother or sister. Some students were given hotspots by the district, but they had internet issues at home,” said Perneel.
Cruz relied on her older sister.
“We had a shared room, so I would be on this side, she would be on that side, and then when I wouldn’t understand anything I would be like, ‘when you were in middle school, did you do this? Can you help me?’” remembered Cruz.
Garcia, who studied to be a teacher in Mexico, would go above and beyond to be there for her kids.
She would ask her nieces or nephews for help with her kids’ English homework and is also taking English classes to be a resource for her children.
With the return of in-person classes, teachers are seeing the difference.
“Also when you put the students together you have the ability to have them check for understanding more frequently. We have the students orally responding, you have the students also being able to use their bodies to move around the room and to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject,” said Perneel.
Cruz is paying it forward with her younger siblings and other EL students.
“A lot of their homework is in English. I also go to this program called Youth Works, and I tutor kids,” Cruz explained.
Garcia said these classes are crucial for multilingual homes. She also said it opens up opportunities for the kids but also for the parents because students are often English to Spanish translators and vice versa.
Per state requirements, the district has an English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) and a District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC). Both are programs for parents to get involved.
For more information on how to get involved in those committees, click here.