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Enrichment Block

Q: Why do we have this morning English instruction/enrichment block? Where did this mandate come from?

A: The mandate to provide quality instruction to English Learners (students who are still learning English) is long-standing. SFUSD was not in compliance with this mandate. It became a matter of litigation. The specific legal case involved is the Lau Decision, which can be Googled so that you can get a greater level of detail. The program as implemented at Starr King and other elementary schools in our district complies with Department of Justice recommendations for how schools should adjust their schedules to serve English Learners.

Q: How many Starr King students are English Learners?

A: One third of our students are English Learners.

Q: This is a federal mandate regarding providing adequate services to English Learner kids, but why are English speaking students getting an extra half-hour of English everyday?

A: One third of our students are English learners, so one third of our students are required by law to get this instruction. Because of this, any school-wide program designed to meet the needs of English Learners will affect the entire student body for 30 minutes each day. Students not designated as English Learners are in Enrichment time with a focus on independent and guided reading. Making this 30 minute block count for every student is what we are working on now. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity for us.

Q: What will English speaking students do during this time?

A: English-speaking students now have a half hour of time carved out of the instructional day that can be used to meet a variety of instructional needs. Again, the focus will be on reading. The best use of this half hour should be based on the needs of students within a particular group and may include subject areas other than English, and eventually we will add specialized groups for math, science or Mandarin.

Q: Our scores, even in English Language learners, went UP last year. Why is this being imposed on us now?

A: English Learners are measured on something called the California English Language Development Test– not the California Standards Test (CST). The goal for EL students to bring them to Full English Proficiency (FEP) at which point they are no longer classified as English Learners. Our ELA scores arise from the STAR Tests and are on a different track all together.

Q: How long will we have to comply with this mandate?

A: We have to provide access and instruction to English Learners until all students have reached Full English proficiency status. If you look at what the mandate requires, you will see that it requires schools to implement sound instructional practices that meet the needs of every child. A good English Language program also paves the way for a good GATE program as well as good intervention programs. In addition, even students who are reclassified as Fully English proficient continue to need support in listening, speaking, and writing in English. Likewise, students who come from non-standard English backgrounds benefit from solid English Language Development — or “Academic English” instruction. While a school-wide response such as the one implemented now might not always be necessary, we will always have to comply with the mandate to meet the needs of English Learners.

Q: Why does this Enrichment Block have to happen at the beginning of the day?

A: The Department of Justice has indicated that the first half hour of the day is the preferred time for English Language Development instruction. Our district has highly recommended the schedule as we’ve implemented it. Our revised schedule complies with the DOJ recommendation.

Q: If we are unhappy about this requirement, to whom should we address our complaints?

A: Concerns about English Language Development, the Lau Decision, the findings of the Department of Justice, and so forth can be forwarded to Kevin Chavez at SFUSD. The District website is also full of resources on this topic.

Q: How is English Language Development different from English Language Arts?

A: English Language Development instruction is explicitly for the purpose of teaching students to become more fluent in speaking and listening in English. English Language Arts teaches English reading, writing (in multiple domains), comprehension, and response to literature for all students.

Q: Why are some students from lower grades mixed in with students from higher grades during this time?

A: Groups are mixed in part by ability in some classrooms but also due to the pragmatics involving the number of instructors and the number of classrooms. As the focus hones in on Independent Reading, each student will be able to travel an independent reading path.

Q: This seems like an opportunity to integrate across strands. Is that happening?

A: Kids are being integrated in this segment and it’s a great opportunity to do plenty of good stuff during this time. Again, it’s a new opportunity for kids and teachers and we will be picking up speed in the effective use of this time.

Q: My kid is in Mandarin Immersion, but has a General Education teacher for Enrichment Block time. What are the Mandarin immersion teachers doing during this time? Where do the General Education kids in his/her grade go?

A: All of the Enrichment Blocks are integrated, with one exception at the 4th/5th grade level. All staff is teaching a block during this time, regardless of strand. Mandarin immersion teachers are doing both English Language Development and Enrichment depending on how grade level teams have divided up the student body.

Q: Is Ms. Visalli, who worked with English learner kids in English Language Development last year, focusing on a particular subset during this time or at other times during the day?

A: Ms. Visalli is now focused on overseeing the entire ELD/Enrichment half hour, helping teachers have the materials that they need, helping to group students so that there are learning opportunities therein, and responding to teacher questions that arise. She is also the literacy specialist focusing on target students across the school, especially in the GE and Spanish Bilingual strands.

Q: The district established the Mandarin immersion program to be a certain percentage of the day in Mandarin each year. This new requirement reduces the minutes of Mandarin instruction, and parents weren’t adequately notified. Do kids at Jose Ortega get more Mandarin time?

A: Remember that minutes and percentages are not the same thing. All percentages are being maintained in the Mandarin immersion program. The specifics at Jose Ortega are slightly different because of their student configuration and staffing allocation. But the requirements are the same. Notice of this change began last year — and no restructuring of dual language pathways is needed. Other schools such as Fairmount — a Spanish Immersion school — adopted this model several years ago. Starr King is behind the curve in terms of implementation and compliance.

Q: Are students in lower grades getting less Mandarin time than students in higher grades? Has the curriculum been modified to reflect this change?

A: All students should be receiving about the same amount of Mandarin each day. The percentage goes to 50% at the 4th and 5th Grades.

Q: The Enrichment Block could present an opportunity to provide enrichment and differentiation. What can we parents do to improve the situation as quickly as possible and bring more valuable instruction time back to our children’s school days?

A: I can think of about a thousand ways that parents could get involved in helping to make this first half hour among the most amazing times of the day. Coordinating that help is a bit of a challenge so that teachers and parents can work together in productive ways.