Davis High language program in Modesto featured in industry magazine

naustin@modbee.comFebruary 20, 2014 

JBL Bird Q&A 2

Language Institute teacher Lindsey Bird, seen here with students in 2013, coordinates the program that serves 172 recent immigrants at Davis High School in Modesto and is featured in this month’s issue of California Educator magazine.

JOAN BARNETT LEE — jlee@modbee.com Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

Davis High School’s Language Institute can add another feather to its cap. The program for recent immigrants rated a four-page spread in this month’s California Educator magazine, a statewide publication of the California Teachers Association.

The Modesto City Schools program offers three periods of intensive English instruction and cultural transition. The rest of the day, the newcomers spend with other Davis students, essentially learning on the job.

“We can measure success in graduation rates. We can measure success in the numbers going to four-year institutions and kids going to (Modesto Junior College), which is probably not something they expected coming in,” said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson on Thursday. “I do not think we would have the number of kids going on to post-secondary without that program.”

The program this year serves 172 students from 31 countries, speaking 16 languages. Many came from war-torn areas of the Middle East, having missed years of schooling and coping with memories of escaping a combat zone. Staff members estimate that 85 percent of Language Institute students suffer some level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Our English learners today are very different, more diverse,” Johnson said. For younger students, Roosevelt Junior High has a similar program serving 35 seventh- and eighth-graders.

The Language Institute is in its fifth year. It took shape after a study of English learners seven years ago, said Melanie McCleary, Modesto City Schools’ director of state and federal programs. “What they found is we have such a small number of English learners at the very early stages of English, if we could bring them together we could offer a more intensive, accelerated program and better meet their needs,” McCleary said.

Students arrive throughout the year, cycling through four levels of English language development at their own pace. The program includes four teachers and aides who speak Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.

Social studies teacher Lindsey Bird coordinates the program and developed the culture lessons that help students from very different pasts adjust to a democratic society and co-ed campus life. “They arrive here with zero English, and to see them succeed is really cool,” Bird says in the magazine article, which describes Modesto as a melting pot sitting amid farmland, famed for its cruising culture and “American Graffiti.”

Instructors use lots of visual cues to help students grasp a concept, the article says, citing an example of teacher Amelia Herrera-Evans repeatedly running out the door to explain “exit.”

The program focuses on building relationships, Herrera-Evans says in the piece. “They know we are there for them. I love my job. Teachers here find endless rewards on a daily basis.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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