Struggles with the English learners’ program

Kelvy Echerria is a 10th grader at Los Angeles High School.  He moved
to the United States from Guatemala two years ago.

Like many students who are new to the country, he is in a specialized
program called the English Learners’ Program.  In this specialized
English class, Kelvy learns to read, write, and speak in an entirely
different language than his native tongue.

When I met Kelvy a few months ago, he did not appear to be having a hard time to
speak and understand conversational English.  But he says his command
of English is not strong enough yet for him to be placed in regular

Kelvy is among 203-thousand students who are taking English Learners’
or EL classes in the Los Angeles Unified School District.


In regular high school settings, it would be uncommon and somewhat odd
to see 18-year-olds in the 10th grade. But in the specialized English
program, sometimes students stay in high school until they are 21 to
get the high school diploma.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 3 percent of the
English learning students in the district are proficient in English
and math.  If students do not comprehend materials taught in school,
they are more likely to perform poorly, or it may take them longer to
pass required classes.   And those who are not achieving sufficient
grades are more likely to be held back.

If students come to the United States at the age of 16 or 17 like
Kelvy, and if they not speak English, they won’t be able to go right
into science or regular classes.  When they are learning to say things
like, “How are you? Where are you from? How many people are in your
family?” they won’t be able to take classes as regular 10th graders
may take.

It cannot be easy for Kelvy.  He’s in a classroom with a group of
younger students.   He may not speak or understand English well but
he’s a lot more mature than other students.  That must be why he hangs
out with other relatively older EL students.

It cannot be easy for teachers, either.  Many of EL students in Los
Angeles are familiar with their own language, mostly Spanish. And
that’s their home language.  When they come into school, they have
less comfort with English.

At the same time, teachers must face students from different levels of
English proficiency.  Some may have trouble writing a sentence.  Some
may not even understand a word in English.


Mary Hayes is an English teacher at Roosevelt High School.  She has
been teaching English as Second Language classes and English classes
in the LAUSD since 1998 at the school.

Listen to Hayes’ experience as an EL teacher.
by Helensjeong

Given that the school is located in Boyle Heights with a high Hispanic
population, Hayes usually gets a lot of students from South American
countries.  But she says every student has a different level of
proficiency.  That means a standard text book may not be suitable for
a couple dozen students in one classroom.

There are more EL students at schools like Roosevelt in immigrant
neighborhoods.  That means urban schools are more likely to have more
students who may need to stay longer in high school to meet graduation


Some have said having too many EL students concentrated in one school
could have a negative effect on the school itself overall.

Let’s say, if there are more students like Kelvy who are new to the
country and learning the language, overall test scores and the
Academic Performance Index would likely be lower than the ones from
schools with fewer EL students.

But Hayes says it’s unfair and even wrong to blame it on EL students.
She added it breaks her heart when people criticize EL students for
bringing down the average test scores.

Listen to Hayes’ emotional account
by Helensjeong


Sandy Chavez, a rookie EL teacher at Roosevelt High, also says her
experience with EL students has been eye-opening and rewarding.

She says she could see her students’ eyes sparkle when they learn new
words or expressions in English.


Like Hayes’ students, Chavez says her students have been extremely
studious and committed to learning English.

“A few days ago, we got flu shots for students here at school.  One of
my students went to the nurse’s office and got the flu shot all on his
own.  I was so proud of him,” Chavez said.

Chavez also never forgets to give encouraging words to her students.
by Helensjeong

Harworking EL students who are eager to learn appreciate teachers like
Chavez and Hayes.

Kelvy says his teachers have never stopped encouraging him.  Within two
years he’s been in the country, he says his reading and speaking
skills have improved immensely because he works hard.

“My teacher told me, if I want to learn English, I should read a lot
of books.  I go to the library after school or stay at school longer
to read.”

Kelvy says he expect to graduate from high school when he’s 21 years
old.  When he get that diploma, he’s planning to go back to his native
country and become an English teacher.

This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Struggles with the English learners’ program

  1. Ben Gertner says:

    Thank you Helen for highlighting the great work our ESL teachers are doing. These students are amazing, and we are lucky to have them in our schools.