Dual Language and Community Support Drive EJE Academies to Success

February 11, 2016

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EJE Academies Charter School started 11 years ago by parents and community members in San Diego's East County. When the local elementary school that served predominately low-income students was abruptly closed, the parents of 500 displaced students had a vision to provide a comprehensive and challenging educational plan that provides children with the tools necessary for future success. The result was the founding of EJE Academies.

As dual language charter schools, EJE Academies prepare students from diverse population to excel in higher education and to be leaders in creating a just global society. When it opened its doors in August 2005, the school had 110 K-3rd grade students. As a result of the school's success and parent demand for a middle school, EJE Middle Academy was established in fall 2009 with an initial enrollment of 60 students. Today EJE's elementary and middle schools serve more than 700 students who continue to thrive and exceed expectations.

What makes EJE unique is its use of the 90-10 dual language program model (Spanish - English) in which Spanish is used as the primary language of instruction in the elementary years. English is introduced gradually into the curriculum, and all students receive high-quality instruction centered on academic success through the integration of the Spanish and English language instruction with the goal for students to become bi-literate by fifth grade. EJEA is the only dual-language model in San Diego East County where students and teachers are bilingual and learning a second language is valued.

EJE's committed staff and teachers also bring a different approach to traditional learning, which is emotional support. They conduct home visits with all students to strengthen the connection with children and families, and reinforce the attention and love they give in the classroom. Every day, teachers greet their students with a smile and have their arms open ready to give hugs to their students who may not be receiving them elsewhere. The teachers and staff recognize that students not only need the academic instruction, but also emotional support and love. EJEA is never about my, me or I; everyone on campus has contributed to EJEA's success and there is no part too large or too small.

The program is met with academic success. The students are thriving and EJE has received WASC accreditation for both schools, as well as a National Excellence in Urban Education Gold Award from the National Center for Urban School Transformation (NCUST), California Distinguished School Middle, and the 2015 Seal of Excellence Award from the California Association for Bilingual Education Award.

Eve Pacheco, executive director of EJE Academies, believes strongly that the school's success comes down to the integration of this unique way of learning combined with the belief that every child has the ability to succeed.

Parent and Teachers Are Partners in Student Success
One of the reasons EJE has seen such success with its students is because the parents are encouraged to take an active role in their child's education. Many people compare the education at EJE to that of a school that warrants a hefty tuition.

"There are no short cuts and no excuses," said Pacheco. "We give the tools they need to succeed academically and in life. We provide an environment that's accountable for student learning. There's an open policy for parents where they can come anytime to see the classrooms and talk to teachers. The community is key to us for the parents."

From volunteering in the classroom and chaperoning field trips to fundraising opportunities, parents have several opportunities to participate at EJE. "We have about 99% attendance at our parent-teacher conferences," said Pacheco. The parents organize school events and are encouraged to even sit in on classroom learning.

Janet Vazquez is principal of the EJE Academies Middle School. The institution currently has 187 students enrolled. The student population is predominantly Latino, with 30 percent being English-language learners. Vazquez believes that at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that they really know the students very well.

"I know every single student by name and I recognize every parent," said Vazquez. "It's a powerful feeling because our students and parents really feel like they belong. We're able to know our families and what makes a difference for them. We work with them and talk with them about how to support their kids at home."

The dual-language program, combined with a culture of parent involvement, has been key to student success at EJE Academies. Pacheco recalls one student who overcame considerable challenges to exceed at school.

"[This student's] mom was told she would never learn," said Pacheco. "She came to us in kindergarten and was in special education and did not speak a word of English. Today she is in seventh grade, and she's learning at grade level. She even has a goal of herself becoming a bilingual teacher."

Pacheco attributes her success to the student's mother (for believing in her child), and also the EJE teachers and staff for providing the tools and environment for her to learn.

Delia Kumabe, principal of the EJE elementary school echoes this sentiment of student success. EJE Elementary School has 550 students enrolled; 80 percent of them participate in free and reduced school lunch program.

"We are able to work with the students because we have regular meetings where we talk about how to support them," said Kumabe. "Some teachers spend time with students and families outside school to make sure students have the best experience. Sometimes the things we do are as simple as having breakfast ready for them, or washing a uniform when they need it."

That support also goes hand-in-hand with the expectations of the students. "At the end of the day, it's a choice," said Kumabe. "We have very high expectations with high academic rigor and longer days. All of our teachers go above and beyond what's expected. But that's what makes our students so high performing."