Submitted by Denair Unified School District
Learning a second language is hard. It also can be an important asset for students as they make their way through high school to college and beyond. And whether that second language is Spanish or English, the Denair Unified School District believes a mid-year adjustment will benefit all its students.
When classes resumed Jan. 4, longtime Spanish teacher Maria Olivas took on a newly created role as coordinator of English language development services. She will work with students at all grade levels for whom English is a second language while still teaching two periods at the high school.
Moving to the high school and middle school campuses is Jasmin Perez, who spent the first semester working with younger students across the street at Denair Elementary Charter Academy.
Olivas has worked in the district since 2004. Perez came to Denair this school year after previously teaching at Kimball High in Tracy and in Turlock.
“Maria began the bilingual literacy seal program here at Denair High School for Spanish-speaking students,” said Principal Alecia Myers. “We look forward to her continued service as the EL coordinator to expand that program to all bilingual students from the variety of languages spoken by our DUSD students.”
The literacy seal program is run through the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Students must pass a rigorous series of written and oral tests to prove they have mastered a second language. In return, they are awarded a special seal on their high school diplomas.
“Maria will be instrumental in coordinating an ELD program that meets the needs of our students. She will work district-wide to provide instructional support to all teachers and increase parent engagement for our schools,” said Michelle Bush, senior director of curriculum and instruction.
Of Denair’s nearly 1,300 students, English is a second language for 212 of them.
“I plan to make direct contact with parents, teachers, administrators and all other staff in order to learn of other factors in each students’ life that may be affecting the progress of language proficiency and utilize resources that may help address such factors,” Olivas said. “I believe the key to the students’ success is to closely monitor their progress and address the ‘bumps on the road’ as they appear.”
Perez found out about the change in her assignment just before the two-week Christmas break. Though the move was unexpected, she embraced the challenge. She said Olivas was gracious with her support and briefed her on what the students had been learning. Olivas also spent the first two days in class with Perez.
“Our approaches are a little different, but she’s been available for support,” Perez said. “I tend to have a more oral language approach. Mrs. Olivas was more focused on grammar. I like to do more projects, to get the students talking during class.”
The teaching differences extend to how she instructs younger students vs. those who are older, Perez said, who has three classes at the high school and two at the middle school.
“With elementary students, we did a lot of puppet shows and songs. At the high school, I try to introduce the grammar concept and relate it to something that catches the students’ attention,” she said. “For instance, we have winter formal coming up, so I’m trying to connect it to their lives and teaching them to use reflexive verbs.”
To backfill Perez’s duties at DECA, Principal Sara Michelena hired a paraprofessional to assist full-time Spanish teacher Donna Williams.