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"I’m willing to be right in there with them because they are me and I am them."

Yolanda Valdez, Superintendent at Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District


The James B. McClatchy Foundation has awarded grants to school districts in the Central Valley since 2009 with the primary purpose of advancing the academic achievement of the Valley’s English Learners.  In 2017, JBMF (then the Central Valley Foundation) formed the English Learner Advisory Group in order to identify potential high impact grantmaking opportunities for English Learners in the Central Valley. One such opportunity was improving the quality of and increasing access to prekindergarten programs. As a result, the “Growing Strong Learners” initiative launched in 2018.   

The approach of the Growing Strong Learners initiative is asset-based, and prioritizes home language and culture, as well as English acquisition.  In this vein, JBMF supports school systems, programs, and partners as they leverage the strengths of the Valley’s diverse learners and their families. The initiative’s goal is that all Dual Language Learners in the Central Valley enter Kindergarten at the same level or beyond that of their native English-speaking peers and are supported by lasting structures that ensure they thrive throughout their educational journeys.

Why It is Important

English Learners are an important part of California’s education system— almost 60% of children age 0- 5 are classified as Dual Language Learners in California, meaning they speak a language other than English in the home. Unfortunately, due to lack of quality early childhood educational programming, the loss of their home language, and incomplete English development, these students are often behind on measures of school readiness.

As a result, Dual Language Learners are starting Kindergarten significantly behind their English-only peers, and this achievement gap tends to widen over time. A key purpose of The James B. McClatchy Foundation’s Growing Strong Learner initiative is to ensure Dual Language Learners in the Central Valley have access to quality early childhood educational opportunities in order to help close that school-readiness gap.

What We Do

JBMF seeks to advance educational outcomes for Dual Language Learners and English Learners in the Central Valley via four Key Priority Areas that guide our work:

Four Key Priority Areas that Guide Our Work:

  1. Developing Leadership: Administrators, teachers, and parents must develop as leaders in serving Pre-K English Learners and understand that improving outcomes for English Learners is a shared responsibility.
  2. Building Educator Capacity: Teachers must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to utilize instruction that best meets the needs of Pre-K English Learners.
  3. Using Data: Districts must use evidence and data to make decisions about instruction and programs that will promote better outcomes for Pre-K English Learners.
  4. Family Engagement: Districts must encourage Pre-K English Learner family participation and engagement through outreach, education, and training.

Our Approach:

JBMF employs a 3-pronged approach to grantmaking that includes direct service, partnerships, and a focus on policy.

Growing Strong Learners: Direct Service
Our Direct Service approach involves grantmaking directly to school districts.  Our district partners utilize innovative best practices that address our 4 Key Priority Areas and our overall goal of Kindergarten readiness for Dual Language Learners.

Read our current District Partner stories.

Growing Strong Learners: Partnerships
JBMF seeks to partner with other foundations, non-profit organizations, community groups, and institutions of higher education that share similar goals.

Current partnerships include:

Growing Strong Learners: Policy
JBMF supports local and statewide policy efforts as they relate to Early Childhood Education, Dual Language Learners and English Learners. Our current projects include:

  • Californians Together: The Multilingual Learner Consortium project is a partnership with Californians Together and Sobrato Philanthropies to replicate Los Angeles’ successful Consortium for English Learner Success in the Central Valley.