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San Juan Unified students tutor English learners in summer school program

Student ambassadors pose for picture San Juan Unified takes a different approach to tutoring in the district’s summer school program for new refugee and immigrant students, as well as long-term English learners (LTELs) -- those students who have been in the educational system for six years or more, have not been reclassified as fluent English proficient and continue to struggle academically. 

Since 2014, the district has been hiring high school students who are reclassified as tutors, also called student ambassadors. These students were previously English language learners, reached English proficiency and met academic standards to become reclassified, meaning they are now fluent and academically proficient in English. They tutor newly arrived English learners as well as LTELs, or those at-risk of becoming LTELs, in order to help them reclassify as being fluent in English. 

The hiring of these student ambassadors was started by Martha Quadros, program manager of the district’s English Learner and Multicultural Education Department. When Quadros was asked to coordinate and oversee the summer school program for refugee and immigrant students, she was looking for different ways to offer peer-to-peer academic and mentoring support. Reclassified student tutors provide a unique perspective.

“I started to hire student tutors because, as a teacher, I, along with another teacher partner, started the big-buddy, little-buddy program where older students read to younger ones,” said Quadros. “Over time, I observed the longtime and meaningful connections that were developed. It was meaningful for both the older peers as well as the younger ones receiving the support in the classroom setting.”

Quadros’ intent was to offer English learners a language role model in a nurturing and safe environment that would make it more comfortable to learn and practice the language. At the same time, they could work alongside students who have experienced the reclassification process.

The majority of the student ambassadors hired are in high school and have been reclassified. They speak either Spanish, Farsi, Dari, Pashto, Ukranian, Arabic or Russian. Typically, one student supports two classrooms and the number of student tutors depends on how many English learners are enrolled in the summer program. A teacher on special assignment is assigned to provide tutors support and coaching.

Student ambassadors not only tutor students, they build relationships with them. They serve as role models and share with students the kinds of activities they are involved in at the high school level. They discuss their experiences and stress the importance of working hard to do well in school in order to be able to reclassify and reach academic achievement.  

“It helps students connect and learn content from each other as well as help increase motivation for both,” said Quadros. “It’s also a way to offer mentorship and a role model that the younger peer can look up to.”