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After-School Program Helps Franklin Elementary Succeed

20 October 2008 No Comment

Adelaide Chen

Franklin Elementary is one of the few schools in Oakland where Asians – many born outside the United States – make up the largest racial group. Combined with the Latinos, the district considers half the school’s students as English Language Learners.

That means the majority of the students speak another language besides English at home. Their families come from Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Laos, and, most recently, Burma.

For many of these immigrant parents, who face language barriers themselves, it can be difficult to help their children with homework.

“When kids do homework, new immigrant parents mostly don’t know any English,” said JinXia Liu, whose son is in the fifth grade. “So when they finish their homework under the supervision of high school students, we don’t have to rack our brains,” she said.

An after-school learning center run by the nonprofit East Bay Asian Youth Center aims to address these challenges in a culturally sensitive manner. EBAYC has five other after-school learning centers in Oakland. Operating with 250 kids, nearly a third of the student body participates. There are about 700 students at Franklin this year.

Every month, Liu attends a meeting along with other immigrant parents. Mostly mothers with little ones in tow, they fill the cafeteria tables, each one designated for a different language: Vietnamese, Cantonese, Spanish and English.

“They divide us into language groups, and get a high school student to translate what’s being covered today,” said Liu. The program staff includes 40 high school mentors, many who are bilingual.

There are other reasons why the Franklin learning center is popular with parents – it’s free. A federal grant covers the cost for Franklin. The families of the students are limited income earners; 70 percent of the students qualify for free lunches.

But with federal funding come other requirements. The after-school learning center uses the students’ scores from the California Standards Test to measure improvement and to hold themselves accountable to administrators of the grant.

Similar to the state testing requirements that begin in the second grade, EBAYC accepts students starting in the second grade.

Principal Jeanette MacDonald said that, since 2000, there has only been one year when the California Standards Test scores did not improve.

The latest scores put Franklin Elementary at 835, according to the Academic Performance Index. Schools that surpass the 800 benchmark are considered “excellent,” according to the California Department of Education.

“Absolutely (the test scores) have everything to do with the after-school program,” said MacDonald. “We work very closely.” Tommy Lee, director of the after-school learning center, and a designated teacher liaison collaborate on the program content based on the needs of the school.

High school mentors tutor the students in two subjects measured in the standardized test that ultimately determine the API score — reading and math. Currently, the students are focusing on remedial English in small groups.

“There’s a lot of pressure to focus on test scores and monitor them,” said Anthony Trujillo, a 20-year teacher at Franklin who now works as a liaison between the learning center and the teachers.

“But the real effects have been more time spent with reading, more time spent with math,” he said. “Subjects like science and social studies have suffered.”

But Trujillo said he doesn’t know if that’s good or bad.

“You certainly want kids to leave elementary school knowing how to read and function in math so they can go on to middle school and do well,” he said. “So that’s kind of a give a take. But it certainly looks like they’ve improved on test scores.”

The activities extend the school day by about two and a half hours.

Second grade teacher Angela Yapor said she appreciates having an extra hour at the end of the day to spend with ten of her students who need additional help.

“I think every teacher always feels frustrated because she can’t do enough individualized teaching,” she said. “There aren’t enough moments in the day to sit alongside a child or focus on the particular things that one child.”

On a recent afternoon, the class had a discussion on what languages they spoke. The second graders sat at their desks and went around—Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Cambodian, and Spanish. Two spoke Turkish.

“Only English,” said one child, regretfully.

“Oh, a lot of people wish they could speak only English,” said Yapor.

Students switch classrooms for the second hour, where high school mentors lead small groups in reading and comprehension using a set curriculum called Soar to Success.

Twice a week, students and staff put away pencils and books to engage in two hours of activity. Karate, soccer, arts and crafts, painting, hip-hop, Asian and Latino dance are among what’s offered—and there’s no pressure to pick based on gender or race.

Second grader Brandon Tran, 7, goes to cooking class.

But he gets embarrassed when his mother May says he could use improvement in pronunciation and vocabulary. She’s at school after the parent meeting, checking in with her child’s mentors.

“It’s helped him a lot because (the mentors are) all English speakers,” she said. “I speak with him in my own language at home because I want him to practice it more. His English has gotten better.”

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