As 9:30 a.m. rolls around, 11-year-old Juan Aguillar anxiously stares outside the window from his plastic blue chair, bouncing his leg and tapping his pencil on his desk as he watches as the overcast sky dims the jungle gym outside. He watches the third and fourth grade students having recess. His teacher has reminded him to read his book, Mr. Frog and Mr. Toad, three times within the last 20 minutes.
He chose the book from his teacher’s library based of her two sticker system. The top sticker indicates the grade level of the book, the bottom sticker on the difficulty. Aguillar always chooses a book with a top sticker reading six and the bottom sticker reading one.
Despite his teacher’s sticker system, he still has difficulty reading the book written in English. At 12-years-old, Aguillar is not fluent in English, and has known the language half of his life. His parents, a migrant farm worker and a cleaning woman, brought him to the United States from Mexico at 6-years-old.
The Spanish-speaking student spends his Friday mornings in an English Language Development, or ELD, class with eight other students. At his third through sixth-grade school, sixth-grade ELD students spend Fridays with a bilingual teacher, trained to help students whose second language is English.
Since the early 2000s, California Elementary School has had an English as a Second Language, or ESL, program. Bilingual teaching aides were assigned a child to provide one-on-one help the whole school day.
In 2006, the school’s ESL program catered to a record 28 kids, a more than 50 percent increase from the previous school year.
“We had to hire more aides, and even then they had two students instead of one,” ELD teacher Amber Spina said.
As a result, at the start of the 2007-2008 school year, the school began its ELD program. ELD students in each grade have a specified day for an ELD class.
Although ELD students only make up 7.57 percent of the school’s students, the school spends 30 percent more on ELD students than non-ELD students.
“The technology we provide for them is more expensive than non-ELD students,” Spina said. “The school provides ELD students with laptops during the school day and an individualized Rosetta Stone program.”
Despite ELD teachers’ efforts at the elementary level, the district has noticed a downhill trend in students graduating from the ELD program. From the 2012-13 school year to the 2015-16 school year, 7.5 percent points less students were redesignated as English fluent, or students no longer in need of the ELD program. The decreasing amount of students graduating from the ELD program has become a trend in the last decade. Seventeen percent less students tested out of the program at sixth-grade in 2016 than in 2006.
“This decrease has inspired us to implement an individualized Rosetta Stone program than a general one, and we’re in the talks of reintroducing the one-on-one aides,” Principal Lori Wildes said. “But with that, comes the need for more funding, which means the gap in what we spend on ELD students and what we spend on non-ELD students is growing.”
At 9:45 a.m. the bell rings, notifying fifth- and sixth-graders that their 15-minute recess begins. Aguillar immediately perks up, drops his book, and runs to the door. Before he gets out the threshold, Spina reminds him to push in his chair and return the book to the library.
He turns around and does as he’s told with a sense of urgency and quickly runs out the door for recess, straight to the jungle gym.