Rowland Unified School District

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Class Acts: RUSD Helps Kids By Teaching Parents English

 When voters approved Proposition 227 in 1998, many critics feared that the ballot measure’s ban on bilingual education would hurt immigrant children by forcing them into English immersion classes.

But educators in Rowland Unified School District in Los Angeles County managed to find a huge silver lining. As part of its incentives to encourage English literacy, the so-called Unz initiative provided $50 million over 10 years that was earmarked for programs that taught parents English and tutoring skills so that they could help their children with their schoolwork.

With 58 percent of the district’s 16,000
K–12 students Hispanic and 37 percent Asian, it was clear that Rowland needed quality English language instruction.

The district’s elementary schools division formed a partnership with the Rowland Adult and Community Education program in 1999. Using Proposition 227 funds, educators created the Community Based English Tutoring Program for English language learners that focused on improving parents’ language and
tutoring skills.

“Before the CBET Program, parents with limited English skills were reluctant to volunteer at school and could not understand what their children were learning,” says Rocky Bettar, Rowland’s director of adult education. “Now they are learning English and helping their children learn English.”

The program has expanded dramatically since its early years. Combining instruction in English with classes in parenting and life skills, the tutoring program now offers morning classes for parents at all 15 elementary schools in the district. The program provides preschool activities and babysitting so parents can bring younger siblings. Parents, who also learn to become tutors themselves, can check out books to take home so they can help their children with schoolwork. Students also learn to tutor their classmates.

In 2005–2006, nearly 1,800 parents received certificates for tutoring children at home or at school, reporting that they logged more than 51,000 hours working on schoolwork with their kids. The district reported that nearly 300 students qualified to work as classroom tutors that year.

Rowland Unified has also established more comprehensive services at four schools, which are identified as what the district calls CBET/Family Literacy sites. These campuses offer adult education citizenship, GED and job development skills classes, medical and dental screening and other services.

CSBA honored the program in 2007 with a Golden Bell award in recognition of Rowland’s innovative and effective efforts to help students succeed in school by helping immigrant families learn English and navigate life in their new homeland.

Bettar says the program is working.

“We have better attendance, better language acquisition, and our second-graders are scoring better … on standards-based tests,” he says. “Our kindergartners and first-graders are coming to school better prepared. We’ve created a seamless, full-delivery system of English language acquisition for families.”

Carmen Serrano, mother of two Nogales High School students, serves on the high school’s English Language Advisory Committee and works with other parents. Her eldest daughter, a senior, has applied to Pomona College.

“The program has helped me a lot,” she says. “My English is better, and I enjoy my work on the committee.”

—Carol Brydolf


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