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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

South Bay Teachers Try To Bridge The Digital Divide For English-Language Learners

 September 1, 2020 at 10:19 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Going to school via a computer screen at home as a challenge for any student, but that's compounded when the student doesn't speak English and whose family is poor one in five San Diego students returning to virtual school this month, our English learners, KPBS border and immigration reporter max Rivlin Nadler has this story about how teachers are bridging the digital divide to reach these students. Speaker 2: 00:25 Sylvia Miranda is a first grade teacher at Nickoloff elementary school, which is part of the South Bay union school district. This district serves 7,000 students just over half of them are English language learners, meaning they don't speak English at home. So when the pandemic hit in March during your crucial stage of development, these students' language acquisition dropped off. Speaker 3: 00:45 It was a huge challenge. First of all, many of them don't have internet access to just, you know, low income. So internet is too expensive for many of them Speaker 2: 00:55 Miranda handed out some hotspots for her students, but gone were the one on one conversation she had with them to develop their language skills, Miranda scrambled, to shift online while her students and their parents grappled with the immediate shift to virtual learning. Speaker 3: 01:09 I don't think I can even count the number of hours that I had to spend just to figure out the new platform or how to do lessons online, how to download videos. It was a lot of work just to get things going. If it was challenging for me matching top challenge, it was for my parents Speaker 2: 01:28 After a summer of preparation, Miranda's virtual class opened on Monday. All students in the district have been given a laptop and internet access, but many of them will be without parental assistance. While in class, Speaker 3: 01:40 They cannot afford just to stay home like we do. They have to go and work. So our students are kind of, um, sometimes on their own with, um, older siblings. Speaker 2: 01:49 It explains there will be virtual breakout groups for more personal instruction, along with the use of prepared videos, to demonstrate concepts and individual work. But it's going to be tricky for teachers to reach these youngest students for these language learners. Any instruction time lost, could reverberate with them for years. Magali lavenders is a professor of English learner research at Loyola Marymount university. She runs a program that creates curriculums to promote equity for English language learners. She's worried about how a general drop in instruction time, which will vary district by district will impact English language Speaker 3: 02:24 At the learning loss that we fear is going to be true for all children because of the pandemic is then going to be inequitably magnified for English learner students. Speaker 2: 02:35 And she says virtual classrooms at the end of the day are still no substitute for in-person language instruction. Speaker 3: 02:41 Part of the exacerbation is that people are even with the best of internet technology are still disconnected from each other, Speaker 2: 02:50 Still teachers and students in areas hardest hit by the pandemic, especially Latino communities have found ways to deepen their connections. It really has emphasized and what the depth and breadth of the needs of families are while teachers are trying to be there for their students emotionally, during this time, it's no replacement for the social cues that a teacher can pick up on for English language learners in the classroom. So for our youngest kids who are English learners, just imagine that the conundrum here of understanding what the teacher is trying to explain to you. She is basically right in front of you and only a box part. Hey, Cuevas Antionne is San Diego county's coordinator for multi-lingual education across multiple school districts. Even as the County has provided ready-made curriculums support and specific standards to teachers. He's not downplaying the challenges this year poses for teachers and their dual language students, especially as conversations between students play such a large role in language acquisition. Speaker 2: 03:47 You can imagine that for our really young kids at TK, pre-K kinder, it's really tough to expect the kids to be managing conversations and to easily gather all their attention back up. And everything's made all the more difficult as teachers try to battle through barriers of language technology and just general bureaucracy over the weekend with classes set to start in just a few hours, parents and teachers in the South Bay posted in Facebook groups about the lack of class assignments, login credentials, and zoom links, all setting up a first week of school like no other, especially for students who need the attention the most. Speaker 1: 04:25 And joining me now is reporter max Rivlin Adler max, welcome back to the program. Good to be here. Well, it's clear why the challenge is so great for these students, teachers and parents and max, our school administrators, discussing tutors for such kids to focus on their English skills. Now that schools are partially reopening or after the pandemic subsides, when all students are back at school. Speaker 2: 04:48 So a lot of these students do get small group instruction in a regular setting where they'll have other teachers or instructors who are specialists in English, language, learning and acquisition who work with children who need that extra help. We need that one on one attention, and that's even going to keep happening in the virtual setting. They're going to do these breakout groups virtually to kind of, um, get children who are a little bit behind up to speed and really try to focus on one-on-one because that's so important. Um, in terms of actual one in-person tutors, of course the pandemic places have a bunch of barriers in front of that. And not only that, but just in terms of, um, human power, right? Teachers are already stretched pretty thin. We get into this feature, um, basically about how many hours per day and how, how long of a process this is for teachers to really try to get everything prepared for, for digital presentation. Of course, as we're learning right now, everything is so much easier to do, especially language learning and language teaching. When you're in person, you could show somebody an object and you could have them connect to a word it's just that much harder virtually. And of course, anybody who's acquired language later in life will tell you living somewhere where that language is spoken, just makes all the difference. Speaker 1: 06:03 You interviewed a professor of English learner research that was at Loyola Marymount. Uh, she talked about the disparities being magnified by the pandemic for English learners. Can you expand on that? Speaker 2: 06:16 Yeah, so we know in terms of people who are learning English, they're already at a great disadvantage, right? Um, or they, they haven't had as many opportunities that other people have had to pick up the language from their parents. So they're really, um, basically not only acting as a bridge between their parents and the English speaking world, um, they're trying to, to find their own footing as well. That comes along with all the other parts about being, um, especially in the South Bay, being a binational family, um, being, uh, immigrants to the United States is that you have to, um, you know, basically make up for things like technological gaps. The internet is still incredibly expensive. Um, you know, 30 years after we created it for whatever reason, it's still a lot of money. And these are really tough things for families that, um, a lot of whom are essential workers, um, that have been stretched thin by the pandemic. Speaker 2: 07:10 People who, um, are falling back on rent. So we already have disparities even going into a pre pandemic world. And of course, as we're finding out through the course of this pandemic, these are being widened by the pandemic itself and kind of exposing the inequities in society. And it, it gets right even down to the classroom level where if you miss out on those kinds of vital years of, of language acquisition, because kids are not just like learning to speak a language, they're learning to have mastery over it and use it in an academic setting. And that's much harder than just, you know, again, you are me learning the language Speaker 1: 07:46 And the professor also talked about the importance of human connections in a time of virtual learning. How are teachers working to deepen the emotional support and make connections with families at this time? Speaker 2: 07:58 Yeah. I spoke with one teacher in the South Bay, Soviet Miranda. She's been a teacher, I believe at this one school for 26 years. And she, you know, through this virtual platform, she's been getting messages from her students, maybe 10 30, 11 o'clock at night saying, I miss you. I wish I was in class, things like that. So, and she's responding to them. So I think the teachers are acting, especially for these younger ages, you know, K through five, um, as kind of, you know, still their conduits to the outside world. Cause their world kind of got really small in a hurry and that's really tough for, for little kids. Um, so, you know, they are finding new ways to kind of connect to the emotional world of their students as well as being their teachers. Because if you think about, you know, early childhood development, your teacher was kind of that, um, emotional guide as well. Speaker 2: 08:49 They weren't just teaching you things. They were leading you on adventures. They were listening to your concerns. They were talking you down when you had a breakdown, you know, these things are just not happening right now. So it's, it's just another thing that a teacher will have to deal with virtually. And finally, a do you get a sense from teachers that the loss learning time these students are experiencing now can be made up later? Or is this just an experiment born of necessity and it's going to play out and nobody really knows what long lasting impact this is going to have. Yeah. We don't know the long lasting impacts. What we do know is that it kind of surrounds these students on all sides, right? You lose the learning time during this crucial developmental stage. And then the school district that you attending school in could have serious economic consequences from this pandemic as well. Speaker 2: 09:36 So maybe you have less teachers in the future. Maybe you don't get those tutors that you needed. Maybe this technology that came in over the past few months, maybe that gets old and outdated. Um, so I think, you know, basically we need to be, or teachers need to be really on their guard to make sure that the things that were lost during this time, those losses are in compounded by other losses, um, that could happen to school districts that have nothing to do with these kids, um, and everything to do with basically the fact that we are in an economic downfall right now that will reverberate at the state and local level and really hit children who, who have tried extremely hard so far to learn language and, and catch up with their peers. Um, the hardest I'm sure this will be studied and looked at for a long, long time to come. Well. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Ribble and deadlier. Thanks max. Thanks.

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One-fifth of San Diego students returning to virtual school this month are English Language Learners. And that makes distanced-learning all the more difficult.
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