contentmentfeatured-contentmentIssue 38

The Language of the American Dream

WRITTEN BY: NOEL DANIEL
PHOTOS BY: PHOTOS JUST SO

MODESTO IS, AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN, A PLACE OF MANY VOICES.

There are thousands of stories living in the neat rows of houses, or walking down our historic streets. And, as it happens, so many of those stories were originally told in languages other than English.

The Language Institute was born of the need to provide a more intensive English Language Development program for the newcomer population. Founded to meet the needs of newly arrived immigrant and refugee students entering U.S. schools at the secondary level, the program was designed to be implemented at one junior high and one high school within the district’s attendance boundaries.

“I’m proud we can allow immigrant, refugee, asylum-seeking students to realize their American Dream in their first generation,” said Lindsey Bird, M. Ed. and one of the main faces of the Language Institute. “So often, it takes a generation or two of learning the culture and finding out about higher education or career pathways. To be able to do that right when they arrive benefits the student directly.”

It is worth mentioning that a significant portion of the Language Institute population are war refugees. Modesto has become a resettlement hub for the Middle East conflict due to local branches of the International Relief Committee and World Relief, in addition to a well-established Assyrian community who often serve as the U.S. tie to the refugee families.

The Language Institute serves all newly-arrived immigrants and refugees residing within the Modesto City High School boundaries, but is only offered on the Grace M. Davis High School campus. All English learners living within the district and matching the demographic targeted by the program were consolidated, with transportation provided by the district to those living more than three miles from the assigned campus to one site with the intent to better meet cultural, linguistic, and language-acquisition needs.

“We have a responsibility to our students to properly educate them, so that they can be the members of society that they want to be,” said Amelia Herrera, Ed.D; M.Ed.; PPSC and ELD Instructor for the Language Institute. “We’re giving our students the ability to create the American Dream.”

The Language Institute’s pedagogy infuses all classes with a cultural guidance that helps students successfully integrate into their new community and includes information about higher education options. In addition to academic integration and success, the Language Institute also aims to support their students’ adjustment into American culture.

In this respect, the Language Institute has celebrated numerous success stories over the years—some of great individual achievement and others of personal triumph.

The program’s success is tied directly to an individualized academic plan for each student and quarterly data analysis and adjustments. It is their job to tap into a student’s prior knowledge, support them expressing that knowledge in the English language, and develop their English ability to be on par with grade-level-equivalent native speakers.

The Modesto City Schools Board of Education is devoted to providing equity and academic opportunity among the diverse student populations it serves. The Language Institute is the embodiment of that vision. Prior to the development of the Language Institute, equal numbers of immigrant and refugee students were enrolled throughout the city. By consolidating them to one site, designing specialized classes to meet their academic and cultural needs, and using data-driven monitoring, students are succeeding.

“We want equality of outcome,” explained Bird. “We want these students to feel like they have the same tools as their native-born peers. Just knowing that this is a safe place for them is something I’m proud of—and then to see how rapidly they’re able to accelerate once their anxiety goes down.

“Fast forward a year or two or three and they’re the students that are welcoming the new students. To see that cycle—not only of welcoming, but also empowerment—is amazing. Because when those new students come, they look up to the new students and they see them speaking English and applying for college and think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too.’”

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE LANGUAGE INSTITUTE, VISIT BIT.LY/MCSLANGUAGE.

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