How California teachers are welcoming back English learners — with language and community

Courtesy of Charlene Fried

Brianna Alvarez works on a bag representing her Peruvian and Mexican heritage in Charlene Fried’s English class.

As students return to in-person classes, some California teachers are focused on giving English learners lots of time to talk and write about their feelings.

In order to learn to speak, read and write fluently in English, those students need many opportunities to practice interacting with their peers in the language. A lot of English learners didn’t get enough of that practice during distance learning.

During the pandemic many school districts lacked adequate plans to support English learners, according to a report by Californians Together, a nonprofit focused on educational equity for students who are learning English as a second language.

As students come back to school, experts say teachers need to pay special attention to providing additional language support for English learners and making school a welcoming place to ease the anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic.

Some teachers are doing both at once.

Charlene Fried teaches high school English learners at Sierra Vista High School in Baldwin Park Unified in Los Angeles. On the first day of class this month, Fried asked her students a series of questions, such as: How do you feel coming back to school? What’s something you fear? What is your dream in life? What is the most important thing that you want to learn in this class?

Fried let them each answer however they wanted — in one or two words or in complete sentences. Afterward, they discussed which words came up most often. The main point was to build trust, but also to start to get them talking and listening to each other.

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