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Learning English in Campbell's Schools

In Campbell, a third of the students are considered English Learners, and the school district is trying to mainstream them, to the tune of $1.5 million a year.

This is part of a series on immigration that is running across 12 Patch sites.

School registration can be difficult for immigrant parents. For Tessa Corona, the process became even more convoluted when she found out her children—would be classified as English learners.

“I had no clue that my children were lacking English proficiency,” she said. “I had no idea until they were registered.”

Corona came to the United States 11 years ago with her husband Arturo de Alba. He was offered a job at Cisco and the family came with a work visa. They are now residents of this country. Her son, Bruno de Alba was born in Mexico and her daughter, Marina de Alba was born in the US. The family primarily speaks Spanish at home. 

From kindergarten to the third grade, Corona’s two children were part of the ’s special English program. But they weren't alone. A third of the district's students are enrolled in the district's English Language Development program.

The goal? To provide special training and classes for students who lack English language skills—so they can join the mainstream within a few years.

According to the state Department of Education, there are more than 100 languages spoken in the homes of K-12 students in California, and one in four are considered English learners. 

Superintendent Eric Andrew has seen a steady increase overall in English learners and in the Latino population, but nothing dramatic, he said.

“Our community continues to grow and we embrace the diversity here in Campbell,” Andrew said.

He said that the district is doing all the proactive things it can to get the ELD program moving along academically, so the process has been an educational experience.

Students in Campbell Union School District speak 60 languages at home—from Spanish to Vietnamese, Tagalog to Farsi.

And in Campbell's school district, 33 percent of the total student population is considered an "English learner."

What Does it Mean to be an English Learner?

When parents register their children for public school, an important document that determines whether they will be classified as English learners is the Home Language Survey.

The survey asks what primary language is spoken in the home. If parents answer anything other than English, their children are given English assessments. If they score anything less than fluent, they are classified as English learners and receive additional  support through the English Language Development program.

Depending on the number of students within a school in need of this support, they will either receive English training in a group or one on one with a teacher for part  of the day. In middle school, students will have a class dedicated to English Language Development.

The student are tested every year and are expected to be reclassified by the state as proficient in English in three to five years.

Corona said the Campbell school district made it easy for the students to be tested. “It was simple, and I was happy," she said. "The process was seamless.”

After third grade, her children were reclassified and "mainstreamed" with other students. Now one is in the GATE program for gifted students, and the other holds a high grade-point average.

Every child is different, of course. Some finish the English program in one year, while others take up to seven to pass the tests, says Chelsea Toller, the district's English Language Development coordinator.

"Our students that don’t speak English, they have a lot of work to do," Toller says.

Like Corona's children, just because the students are classified as English learners doesn't necessarily mean they were born in a foreign country, she said.

"The vast majority of them are born in the U.S.," Toller said. "Very few are immigrants. Many just happen to be bilingual. These are our children, the future of our cities, the future of our states, and I think that the foundation of a healthy democracy is a healthy public school."

What Does it Cost to Teach English This Way?

The funding model to make the English Language Development program a success is based on not one but multiple sources of revenue and is a bit convoluted.

The school district's spokeswoman, Marla Olszewski, explained by email that the district receives three types of extra funding that goes toward the education of English learners.

Two are federal funds, and one comes from the state.

• Title I is a federal fund (not state) designated to support education for low-income students. Campbell Union's total Title 1 allotment this year is $775,685.

• Title III is a federal fund (not state) designated to support education for students listed as English learners. Campbell Union's allotment this year is $255,915.

• EIA (Economic Impact Aid from the state of California) is a program that supports educational services for educationally disadvantaged students and bilingual education services for English learners. Campbell Union's allotment this year is $494,943.

For each of these allotments of restricted funding, the greatest percentage is applied to personnel. (This is typical for schools/districts, as education requires a lot of people. Often positions are multifunded, meaning they're paid from a combination of these accounts.) 

The funding for the education of English learners goes toward the following:

• Employee salaries/benefits. These include instructional aids, counselors, teacher, translators, testers and child care providers.  

• Instructional materials/supplies. These include texts, instructional materials, testing costs and specific curriculum programs for students.

• Professional development. This includes training for teachers and staff, trainers for specific programs and substitute teachers so teachers can attend training.

• Other support/indirect costs. This may include contracted services (if needed), nutrition services, transportation, accounting, administration and a mandatory reserve.

Campbell Union School District received a little more than $1.5 million this year from these three funding sources combined. The district's total expenses for the year, projected as of March, will be $64.9 million.

Is $1.5 million too much for a school district to spend on a specific population, especially in a state that's slashing what it spends on schools?

"The truth is, all of education is underfunded," Toller said. "Children come to the school districts with all kinds of needs. Each child presents all kinds of needs: behavioral, academic, special needs and English language. It's hard to quantify those needs. It's hard to put a dollar amount on what the cost per student is.

"If you look at it that way, each child is a drain on the system," she said. "We get additional federal money for English learners, so there's extra pots of money to specifically help the kids we know will need additional support. Our daily attendance for them also helps."

This article was produced through a collaboration of PatchU and the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at San Jose State University. PatchU is a Patch Media initiative to build strong relationships with college and universities across the country. The mission of PatchU is to connect students and faculty to opportunities at Patch.  

For more information, email PatchU@patch.com or follow us on Facebook.

*Editor's note: The third graf in this article has been changed to clearly reflect that Tessa Corona entered into the United States with legal status.

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