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LCAP Spotlight: Building bridges for language learners


For the fourth year in a row, San Juan Unified’s English Learner (EL) department staff has worked to provide a targeted summer school intervention for the district’s Long-Term English Learners (LTEL) called PUERTAS. LTELs are students who have been in U.S. schools for six years or more and have not met the criteria to reclassify as fluent English proficient and are struggling academically. Over time, LTELs fall farther behind in school unless a targeted intervention is provided to address the academic gaps in their oral, reading and writing skills.  

The PUERTAS program has been refined to be an intervention based on student needs. The program began in 2016 as a sixth through eighth-grade intervention at four different campuses, then expanded to high school, and now has shifted into upper elementary through 8th grade. PUERTAS has evolved into a preventive program and serves as a kickstart into middle school for many rising fifth grade students.

This summer’s PUERTAS program was held at Thomas Edison Language Institute for 100 fifth through eighth grade students. Students studied climate change and advocates from around the world. Teachers taught English Language Development in the mornings using articles and real-world resources. In the afternoons, students experienced elective classes for the first time, including STEM, College and Career Readiness, Spanish for Spanish Speakers and Theater.  

The program culminated in a showcase of projects from each elective class and a musical called “Let’s Save the Planet” directed by ELD teacher, Elena Daniel. 

“To put together a musical with 30 cast members, props and costumes in two and a half weeks is no easy task - but we did it and it was worth it to see students perform and develop their self-confidence in the process,” said Daniel.  

The culminating celebration showcased their science and literacy artifacts as well as their oral and presentation skills.

“We practiced what their graduation would be like by calling their names and shaking hands as they received their certificates,” said EL Program Manager Martha Quadros. 

Students also visited UC Davis to tour the campus.  

“It’s important for our students to be on a college campus and engage with leaders that look like them who have overcome the same obstacles. So many of our students do not yet have a vision of what their future could be,” said Quadros. “This is why we call the program PUERTAS, which means doors in Spanish, to open those doors to college and career.”         

Newcomer Summer School

San Juan Unified also hosted a Newcomer Summer School program, designed for English Learners who have been in the U.S. less than three years. The program was developed to accelerate language acquisition and increase student academic success. Student eligibility was based on English Learner Language proficiency, refugee status, and test scores. 

The Newcomer Summer School program was offered to students in sixth through 12th grades and was hosted at Arcade Fundamental Middle School. More than 360 students completed the program this summer. 

The program’s objectives were to improve student listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English, as well as to improve knowledge of U.S. cultural norms and social skills to better prepare them for the next school year. The program also gave students the opportunity to earn high school credits to help get them on track for on-time graduation. 

Student tutors are bilingual San Juan Unified students who have exited the EL program. They support the program with their home language and serve as mentors for newcomer students. During the summer, the district hires approximately 60 student tutors to support multiple EL summer school programs. 

Presentation in front of class Continuous Improvement

As planning begins for next year’s PUERTAS program, the district will be looking at the need to increase access to transportation for students in the Arden-Arcade area, as well as looking at recruitment efforts for student participation. Staff will continue to build on the power of theater, journalism, and debate as elective classes, which allow students to use their newly developed academic language skills in a real-world context. Given that 2020 is the presidential election year, census and the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, the district is exploring a social studies themed program for next year.  

In addition, there are plans to expand the Newcomer Summer School program from 16 classes to 20 classes. The district also plans to offer the Ingenuity program, giving students an opportunity to make up the high school credit they need for graduation and include college field trips to encourage students to pursue higher education.