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School Spotlight: El Sol Science and Arts Academy Serving English Language Learners Well

Located in Santa Ana, California, El Sol Science and Arts Academy (El Sol) is a dual immersion school using a 90/10 model. When the students enroll in kindergarten, 90 percent of the day is conducted in Spanish. The rate decreases by 10 percentage points each year until the fourth grade when the students reach a 50/50 language ratio.

Opened in 2001 with a kindergarten and first grade class, El Sol has added one grade level each year. During the 2012-13 school year, El Sol served 763 students in K–8th grade and 72 students in its part time pre-k program. Ninety-six percent of El Sol students were Latino, many of whom were recent immigrants. Moreover, 70 percent were English Language Learners (ELL), and 80 percent qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Here are a few of the ways El Sol is working to serve ELL students:

Special Programs 

  • Every student who enrolls must complete a home language survey that is required by the State of California. The answers to the survey determine whether the student must take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to determine her/his level of English proficiency. This test helps determine the particular level of instruction the student will need, and El Sol provides targeted instruction in each grade at every needed proficiency level.
  • The students have a longer than normal school day and extended day tutoring programs are available for students who need them.
  • To assess academic progress, students undergo writing and oral assessments in addition to the required standardized exams. Students’ portfolios and grades are discussed by teachers before making decisions to advance the respective students to the next level.

Parent Engagement and Cultural Understanding 

  • To ensure parents understand what is happening in their child’s school, all school correspondence goes home in English and Spanish, and virtually the entire staff can speak both languages.
  • The school offers a full array of family services, including an onsite wellness center, ESL and citizenship courses for parents, and attorneys who come in to do pro bono work.

Bilingual Teachers 

  • El Sol partners with local universities to recruit high-quality teachers. One nearby university, Chapman University’s School of Education, sends student teachers to the school as part of their training program.
  • Teachers at El Sol are required to have a bilingual certificate in language acquisition development in addition to their teaching credential.
  • El Sol seeks out teachers who have taken nontraditional paths to the profession. They often hire staff from other countries who do not have U.S. teaching credentials but do have higher education degrees from other countries. They use them as instructors who supplement the work of teachers.

El Sol’s model is an excellent example for all charter schools. As the charter school movement grows, we must continue to serve all students well, preparing them for academic success and beyond.

Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools.