Bilingual education charter school in constant state of improvement

May 18, 2015

  • Print
With social justice at the core of its program, Excellence and Justice in Education Elementary Academy (EJEEA) recently received statewide attention for their bilingual education program.

The California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) awarded EJEEA the 2015 Seal of Excellence Award for their work in providing bilingual education for more than 500 students in transitional kindergarten through 5th grade.

But, EJEEA Principal Delia Kumabe Pacheco says there is still more work to do. "We are a school that is always looking to improve," Kumabe Pacheco said. "We work with students and families that require us all to be our very best."

Excellence in Justice Education (EJE) began in 1991 as an advocacy group to address educational barriers faced by low-income Latino students and to promote bilingual education within the Cajon Valley Union School District. EJEEA was approved in 2004 as a charter school to deliver a research-based 90:10 dual immersion program with a focus on social justice. The elementary school serves students in transitional kindergarten through 5th grade, while EJE Academy Middle School, recognized as a California Distinguished School, serves students in grades six through eight.

"As a 90:10 dual language Spanish/English program, it takes five to seven years to see the fruits of bi-literacy - to be able to read, write, and speak academically in two languages," Kumabe Pacheco said.

Numerous research studies show that when 90 percent of the day is spent in the target language - in this case, Spanish - the language is acquired most effectively and efficiently. For English-only students, this provides a strong foundation in Spanish in the first few years and results in high levels of proficiency in both languages as English literacy instruction is introduced. And for Spanish-speaking students, the 90:10 model gives them a chance to be well-grounded in Spanish literacy and academic instruction as English is progressively introduced.

Because bi-literacy takes years to develop, parent support and commitment to the program are important. Each school year, teachers conduct home visits to establish a relationship with parents to develop strong school-home communication. Through school visits, teachers gain a deeper understanding of each student's needs and how to address them.

Teachers at EJEEA are no strangers to creating their own resources and tools to help teach students, according to Kumabe Pacheco.

"It was not a shock to us when the Common Core State Standards did not come with ready-made materials," she said. "Books don't teach students - teachers teach students."

EJEEA teachers took the Common Core standards and developed resources, using the school's full-time instructional and literacy coaches. In fact, Principal Kumabe Pacheco takes a hands-on approach to what is being taught, by requiring each teacher to submit their lesson plans to her for feedback.

"I take the weekend to go over each lesson plan because the cook needs to know what is being fed to our students," she said. "We also look at how we are teaching and provide feedback on improvement to instruction."

According to Kumabe Pacheco, bilingual education is more than teaching students to read, write, and speak academically in both Spanish and English - it's about giving cultural value and integrating different perspectives into the curriculum.

"We have our students read current news articles on issues of social justice, so that they can form their own opinions and develop solutions," she said.

According to the Seal of Excellence Award by CABE, "EJEEA promotes high levels of bi-literacy, academic success in both languages, and a school environment that promotes and models social justice."

Kumabe Pacheco credits the recent recognition to teachers and staff who have committed themselves to a program that requires a constant state of improvement.