As part of New America's ongoing reporting on how communities in California are reforming the way early childhood systems work and the way educators are trained, our partners at HiredPen captured and we produced this video to document the work in Fresno to improve instruction for dual language learners.
Outgoing Fresno School Superintendent Mike Hanson says walking into the city’s classrooms today is like staring into the future: “Fresno is the mirror or microcosm for what California’s going to look like 10 to 15 years downstream.”
The school district, one of the state’s largest, sits in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, and is 67% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 10% white and 9% African American, according to Hanson. Students enter school speaking upwards of 50 different languages, most commonly Spanish, Hmong, and Khmer.
“We are the launching pad for students to get up and out of poverty,” Hanson said. “And we take that quite seriously.”
Since 2011, the school district has been shifting resources to expand and improve its early childhood programming in an effort to better prepare students for learning in the upper grades. As part of this work, the district is taking part in a unique collaboration that brings together its educators with others from Head Start and the local child care community. The goal of this effort, called the Fresno Language Project, is to see how national models of best practices can be adapted in Fresno to improve outcomes for young dual language learners across their community. Notably, the professional development sessions are created and driven by the local teachers and caregivers.
Catherine Atkin, who runs California’s Early Learning Lab that helped support the training, says the early childhood field overall has spent far too little time understanding how to best support this population of students. The answer, she believes, may be found in projects like this one that put educators in the driver’s seat.
“If you really want to serve the children of California and the country,” Atkin said, “we’ve got to figure this out.”
For more, don't miss our special page, "Stronger Teaching and Caregiving for California's Youngest.”
And, for ideas from New America on how to improve outcomes for dual language learners, visit the Dual Language Learners National Work Group.