Education is a key to success, but even for the greatest of students, a language barrier can pose a threat to their academic success, according to Newhall School District staff.
However, Newhall district staff implement a variety of programs to support their English Language Acquisition students and their families. In recent Newhall district governing board meetings, staff presented updates on current programs such as the Latino Family Literacy Program, “Benchmark Hello!” and a partnership with College of the Canyons for adult English classes.
According to Dee Jaimison, assistant superintendent of instructional services, the Latino Family Literacy Program started this year and it’s a way for parents to engage with their children. The purpose of the program is “help families understand the power of reading to their children,” Jaimison said.
Newhall district staff facilitate the program at five school sites designated as Title I. A school district can seek Title I funds to provide services that support students who are at risk of failing or who are not meeting state standards.
For example, at Peachland Elementary School, parents who participate in the program are welcomed to come on campus and join their child for a reading day, Jaimison said. The books are bilingual, and participants also create a scrapbook to remember the characters and stories they encountered together.
“We knew it is important to engage our families and to provide a learning opportunity regardless of backgrounds,” Jaimison said.
The program is for students K-6 and it teaches foundational reading skills along with comprehension and vocabulary, which are all aspects of learning that were hit particularly hard as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaimison added.
“It [the program] absolutely helps,” Jaimison said. “When you have support at home, anything can be possible.”
“Benchmark Hello!” a program designed for newcomers combines survival skills, English language development and social-emotional learning, has made a positive impact with ELA students, according to Jaimison.
“We’ve been searching for years for programming to help our newcomers,” Jaimison said. “It’s really to help newcomers to the U.S. understand practices and expectations of a school campus in a very accessible way.”
Newhall teachers benefit from the program, too, as Benchmark Hello! serves as a road map on how to address ELA students or newcomers who may not be familiar with school learning. According to Jaimison, teachers had to make their materials and lessons for these students, but Benchmark Hello! brings a cohesiveness to the classroom.
The program also provides assessments to help monitor student progress, she added.
The district has used Benchmark Hello! for some time now, and the Newhall district governing board approved the purchase of K-1 Benchmark Hello! materials for approximately $6,947 at the June 14 meeting.
Governing board members also recognized the efforts of parents and community members who completed COC’s Adult Learning Program, English as a Second Language.
“When I first came on board as superintendent, we had a vision to offer an opportunity to help our Spanish-speaking families become more proficient in English,” Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said.
The district partnered with COC to offer free English classes to the community. Pelzel said they started with one course at McGrath Elementary School and it expanded on five other campuses.
“I’m really proud of this not just reaching out to our parents, but it’s others, too,” Pelzel said. “My vision is for our families to become proficient enough, and we’re now talking about what’s the next level of courses that we can offer them, because I would love for them to become employees at the Newhall School District because they’re bilingual.”
“That’s the vision, is to give back to our community and give them an opportunity so they can work and be around their children.”