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Growing Strong Learners: Lessons Learned and A Look Ahead

The Growing Strong Learners initiative’s purpose is to address the opportunity gap that young Dual Language Learners (DLL) experience before they reach Kindergarten, and as a result, the achievement gaps they face thereafter. The work of our Central Valley school district partners centers around developing leadership, building educator capacity, engaging and empowering families, and using empathy and data to drive systems-change, all with the express purpose of ensuring our youngest Dual Language Learners are Kindergarten-ready. 

The initiative has expanded to nine Central Valley districts with high DLL populations, including  Cutler-Orosi Unified, Delhi Unified, Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified, Galt Joint Union Elementary, Lindsay Unified, Robla Unified, Washington Unified, Winters Joint Unified, and Woodlake Unified. (See location map of all partners.) Their knowledge, dedication, and love for the students and communities they serve are admirable and inspiring. They have been nothing short of heroic in their response to the pandemic, which is over and above the essential work they do on the ground, in classrooms, each and every day. 

Lessons Learned

As the Foundation maximizes lessons learned through its investments, it’s important to call out just a few of the project highlights from our initial cohort of district partners:

  • Key insight: Parent support a critical success factor
    At Firebaugh, educators have started a new Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program in three PreK classrooms this year. Teachers are being trained in Personalized Oral Language Learning (POLL) strategies and Firebaugh reports seeing unprecedented support from parents for this new model.

  • Key insight: Teacher preparation is essential
    At Galt, administrators and educators are gearing up for a Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program of their own. Ten Preschool teachers (which represents 91% of district preschool teachers) are currently being trained in Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) and teams are making site visits to other DLI classrooms in preparation for a Fall 2022 launch.

  • Key insight: Focus on school-home collaboration
    At Robla, 158 families (which represents 58% of preschool families) gathered together with teachers in Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) to look at student data and learn about strategies parents can use to address academic issues at home.

  • Key insight: Take a holistic approach
    At Cutler-Orosi, their Academic Coach provides professional learning in best practices for young Dual Language Learners to all Early Childhood educators. The district also provides varied parent engagement activities, including Parents and Me classes and Family Literacy Events.

These are effective, innovative changes and huge wins for the students and families in these districts. 

A Look Ahead

Partnering with school districts has provided the Foundation insight into what’s needed and necessary to ensure our DLLs are successful throughout their educational journeys. Our work ahead aligns with the mission of the state’s English Learner Road Map and includes forward-thinking and bold systems-change needed via the following guiding principles:

  1. Multilingual Learners are the future of our state: English Learners currently make up almost 18% of our K-12 system and Dual Language Learners make up 60% of our 0-5 year olds in California. These numbers may increase as our population changes.  Therefore, we can no longer afford to simply “wait and see” when it comes to these children.  We must act to ensure they have the same opportunities and levels of success as their English-only peers.

  2. Biliteracy is the ideal: We want California’s students to compete in a global economy and being bilingual and biliterate will help them do just that. In addition, being bilingual and biliterate have both cognitive and academic benefits that are well-documented.

  3. Educational programming and classroom instruction should be assets-based: In other words, as we’re teaching English Language Development, we are honoring students’ home languages and cultures, and viewing these as valuable assets that students and families bring to their school communities.

  4. The success and well-being of Multilingual Learners are the responsibility of all: In the past, there have been specific departments and teaching positions solely focused on English Learners. While this is still the case, there’s an effort to change school culture so that all teachers and staff recognize that the success of MLs is something all should focus on.  And to do this, everyone from classroom teachers to superintendents need to be educated on the academic and social/emotional needs of MLs and the best practices to meet those needs.  

These guiding principles are a “North Star” for JBMF as the Foundation continues its work in serving Dual Language Learners in the Central Valley.

Closing note:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” -A.A. Milne

My time at JBMF has been a period of tremendous growth, both personally and professionally. While I arrived at JBMF with experience working in schools and coaching educators, the role of Senior Learning Advisor allowed me to focus specifically on the principles of equity, inclusion, and systems-change. This position also afforded me the opportunity to sharpen my knowledge of, and further my commitment to Dual Language Learners. Looking back, I feel privileged to know the teachers and leaders in our partner districts and truly appreciate all they have taught me.  

I am forever grateful for my experiences at JBMF and the relationships I’ve made. My new career move in February focuses on curriculum and instruction, allowing me to utilize my background and expertise in early literacy. I will miss our grantee partners and my colleagues tremendously, yet I’m comforted by the fact that I will carry this work forward and continue to put Dual Language Learners at the center of everything I do. I also know that JBMF is poised to make a real and lasting impact in the Central Valley. I look forward to watching this team from afar as they support our Central Valley partners and achieve all of the Foundation’s goals. – Elise Spang