When Daniela Corona walks across the stage on June 13 to receive her diploma, the Half Moon Bay High School senior will be stepping toward a bright future — and leaving a slew of accomplishments in her wake. Beyond serving as her senior class president, Corona is a formidable force on the school’s wrestling, track and field, and cross-country teams. 

Next year, Corona will set off for Claremont McKenna College, where she received a full-ride scholarship for her freshman year. She was also accepted to the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, among several others.

But Corona, who grew up with her Spanish-speaking family in Moonridge apartments, a subsidized housing community south of Half Moon Bay, remembers when she was pulled out of class as a fifth-grader at Hatch Elementary School to take a series of exams to be reclassified as English-language proficient. 

“I got reclassified pretty quickly because I have two older siblings, and they were mixing up Spanish and English,” Corona said. “So, I got a little bit of both (languages).” 

In recent years, the Cabrillo Unified School District has set its sights on boosting the district’s reclassification rates, the process that enables English learners to meet language proficiency standards established by the California Department of Education. The district can claim some success in that effort and that may well increase students’ chances of success later on. Not everyone is able to achieve those standards. 

Last year, 41 percent of the district’s 11th-grade students were not proficient in English Language Arts as measured by the California Assessment for Student Performances and Progress. Among socioeconomically disadvantaged students, 58 percent were not proficient by 11th grade.  

“We try to get our students reclassified as early as possible,” said Half Moon Bay High School Principal John Nazar. “But especially before they get to high school, because if a student is not reclassified, then they might be taking a series of (English language development) courses, which are not eligible for the requirements you would need for (California State University) or (University of California) courses.

“It doesn’t mean that you could never access those,” he added. “But those are the standards. If we get all of our students to meet (those) requirements, there’s a good chance of college acceptance. And then they can make more decisions.”  

Joy Dardenelle, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, echoed the sentiment that achieving proficiency in English provides students with a stronger foundation for success in college and their careers. 

“It also provides them more space, within the schedules, whether at middle school or high school, to take classes that interest them,” she added. “Because, right now, when they are English-language learners, they are taking development courses to get additional language support. When they’re getting additional (language) support, they’re not taking classes that might not necessarily fulfill the different types of interests that they have.”

Cabrillo Superintendent Jane Yuster added that by the time students enter high school, if they’re not reclassified, the likelihood of fulfilling the college entrance requirements for both California State University and University of California schools is almost zero. 

“They need those electives,” she continued. “They need that time free, and instead they’re still in language acquisition classes. It makes almost an insurmountable challenge for the students.” 

Dardenelle also touched on some of the factors that compound those challenges for students living in poverty. In 2018, only 28 percent of the district’s socioeconomically disadvantaged students had completed those college entrance requirements. 

“There may be less access to books,” she said. “There may be less access to school settings and tutoring. There may be less access to music. When you don’t have a lot of enrichment activities, it can make it difficult to create context. 

“There’s also different types of trauma, like if your parents are going through a divorce or you’re trying to find a place to live,” she continued. “There are a lot of students in the community who don’t have fixed housing. There’s a lot of stress that comes with that.” 

Cabrillo officials have enacted a series of strategies and interventions to amplify reclassification rates, the district’s primary goal in recent years. They include reading interventions, the adoption of new English language development materials and better communication with parents regarding their children’s reclassification benchmarks and monitoring.

Between 2016 and 2018, the district’s reclassification rates jumped from 9 to 20 percent. 

“I think the trend is going to plateau,” said Dardenelle. “I don’t think it can continue at the current rate, just because of how much (the contributing factors) are cost-related. But what we’re learning is that we need to keep changing our strategies based on what the needs are."

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