Newhall district discusses COVID-19 update, language program

Photo courtesy of the Newhall School District.

The Newhall School District governing board received an update regarding public health rules related to COVID-19 and masking indoors on Dec. 6, in addition to an update to a language program being implemented at Old Orchard Elementary.  

Currently there is no required masking for students indoors. However, that is subject to change if the state or county health departments announce a new directive. 

According to the agenda, the district is subject to restrictions established by the California Department of Public Health as well as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The rules require that if either of those two agencies issue a new masking mandate staff, students and visitors to school sites must wear masks while indoors, unless an exemption applies. 

“NSD’s governing board follow CDPH and LACDPH mandates and implements best practices in setting and regulating policies, procedures, protocols and workplace safety guidelines consistent with trauma informed practices, the unique circumstances and conditions of the Newhall School District, including its instructional program, for its stakeholders and the surrounding community,” reads the district’s mask exemption and enforcement protocols for the 2021-22 school year. 

In addition, the Newhall district governing board received an update regarding Old Orchard Elementary’s Dual Language Immersion program. 

According to the presentation by Daria Ramirez, principal of Old Orchard, the purpose of the program is for students to demonstrate academic success by becoming bilingual and biliterate learners.  

“Our students will embark on a journey of multiculturalism and inclusivity through a rigorous education with language at the forefront,” read the slides of the presentation. “Students will leave this program with the gift of a multicultural lens to prepare them to be global citizens.” 

The program began in the 2019-20 school year. When the program first launched, it was taught for kindergarten and first grade, only had four teachers, one full time administrator dedicated to the program and staff had to transition to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Now entering its fifth year, the program will expand to fifth grade, introduce a stronger emphasis on sociocultural development, integration of culturally and linguistically responsive practices and resources and staff will create an ongoing partnership with the William S. Hart Union High School District to ensure successful transition of students to earn their seal of biliteracy.  

“We are proud of the work that our teachers, support staff, administrators and families have done to ensure that our students are progressing as bilingual and biliterate students,” said Kate Peattie, assistant superintendent of instruction for the Newhall district.  

Peattie said they are working to expand the program to sixth grade in the following year and working collaboratively with the Hart district to ensure that students can continue their program in their junior and high school careers.  

According to Peattie, dual language programs are most effective when there are at least 33% of the students from each language group — English learners and native English speakers. The program at Old Orchard Elementary has an even mix of students, she added. 

Currently, the dual language program is only offered at Old Orchard, but district officials would love to expand it to more of their school sites in the future if there is enough community interest.  

Peattie said there are incredible benefits for students who become biliterate. Studies have shown that children who learn two languages boost their cognitive functioning and actually outperform their monolingual peers in adolescence and adulthood, she wrote in an email.  

“Biliteracy also helps native speakers maintain their cultural and familial connections by holding onto their home language instead of losing it over time from lack of use,” Peattie wrote in an email. “Dual language programs increase cultural awareness from both languages as they are exposed to a variety of cultures, breeding appreciation for both differences and similarities.” 

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