For as long as I can remember, my family and I lived in neighborhoods with either my relatives or other Hmong families as my neighbors. As a child, I grew up learning my native language and not knowing how to speak English well. I remember being in a group of students who were English learners and we all had these little packets with a book, writing utensils and tiny gifts. I learned how to read and write in English. It was then that I knew the importance of literacy.
Many people are unaware of the importance of the English Learning (EL) programs and the way in which the special programs are made to guide students.
The EL programs provide students with the extra help they need in any class course they do not comprehend. They are guided by specific English Learning Development (ELD) teachers and counselors throughout their years in school. The students are given extra classes in any subject that is available to meet the school requirements.
Mai Zoua Vang, a senior at Edison High School, has been in a program similar to the English Learning program since her elementary years. She says the goal of the program is to provide students the assistance they need in furthering their education and future. “In elementary school, we went to summer school where they (taught) us the basic subject and to better our English speaking,” she says, “Then in middle school and up, they helped supply us with a binder, pencil, calculator, et cetera. They called us in and updated us with college stuff so we knew what to do for the future.”
Not only are these programs geared towards students, but there are also many programs like these for parents as well.
Pedro Vasquez, a counselor who has worked at Edison High School for almost four years, is one of the counselors who lead their parent English Learning program called the English Language Bilingual Advisory Committee (ELBAC).
The meetings are held on the first Wednesday of every other month in the evening. In this program, parents are not only taught specifically English, but how to help their child in school and how they can contribute to helping their children do well in their studies at home.
In addition, ELBAC provides resources for parents to help their students in furthering their education. “What we’re trying to do is establish a connection with the parents so they can feel that they are part of the school,” says Vasquez, “but also, they can increase their own knowledge and then hopefully better assist their own children and just the community in general.”
Parents are also given the opportunity to improve the education system by attending the Fresno Unified School District Board meetings and voicing their opinions or concerns of any kind during the ELBAC meeting.
Connie Cha, also a counselor at Edison High School, works with Hmong and Spanish-speaking students who are in the EL program. She has worked with EL students at Edison for about seven years.
“The EL students are a special targeted group here that we always try to make sure there are available support services,” says Cha. “We make sure the students know who their counselors are. We help explain why they have certain classes, and we also talk to them about their level of English proficiency, and how those classes will still help them towards meeting graduation requirements.”
Cha says that based on the California English Language Development Test, which is given to EL students at the end of every year to check their learning progress, counselors must give the students the appropriate classes to support their learning.
She says many of the students question why they have two of the same classes all the time and a big struggle for these students is the process of learning English and trying to comprehend it to the best of their ability. Cha recognizes the challenges and pushes the students to do their best in their studies.
“A common thing I see is every single one of them has the passion, dedication, motivation to try to learn English. They all want to do well so they can understand every bit of information that comes their way,” said Cha.
Both Vasquez and Cha say they believe there is always something that needs improvement in programs like these, especially in the area of parent involvement.
“It’s always difficult to get parents to come to the campus in the evenings around five o’clock,” says Vasquez, “When it starts to get darker outside, we get less parents. Sometimes we get a great turnout; sometimes we don’t get so good of a turnout. So parent involvement is the key here to awareness, but then again it depends on availability of the parents as well.”
In all programs, parents play a vital role in contributing to their child’s education. “I always feel that is an area that is always open to more improvement,” says Cha, “I don’t know what the magic formula is, but I would love to hope and strive for that one day, to get all the parents of our EL students to be active in their child’s education.”
She says that more parents need to voice their opinions and concerns, and be active in order to be heard. If they don’t, then changes cannot be made to implement programs to better serve their children. English Learning programs are essential for students who are behind in their English speaking, reading, and writing skills. Furthermore, programs like these can really help students succeed and continue their education after high school.
Literacy is essential to become successful in one’s education and career. For new immigrants and their families, having more of these types of programs will help them better adapt to a new community and to be successful overall.