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Bilingual students may be San Diego’s greatest natural resource.

More than one in five students in San Diego County speaks another language at home. This group, 80 percent of them native Spanish speakers, will soon be the base of the local workforce.

At a time when a growing number of employers is looking for bilingual professionals, San Diego County has an opportunity to be a leader in its approach to helping students gain the skills that allow them thrive in an increasingly diverse world.

But the reality is that each year tens of thousands of English-learners, as they’re officially labeled, fail to make academic progress in San Diego schools. And if students lag behind their classmates by the time they get to middle school, they’re often placed in remedial courses, where they continue to fall behind their peers.

All too often, the end result are students who drop out, or leave high school without the skills in English – or their native language – to attend college or secure living-wage employment.

We know some the reasons why this happens. Experts, teachers, parents and students all hold pieces of the puzzle. But a lot of what we know is also disconnected.

That’s why Voice of San Diego is in the midst of creating an advisory group focused on English-learners to help us understand the issues these students face, pinpoint stories we should be chasing and shape the way we cover education.

Who We’re Looking For

Parents: You see the challenges your children face and know what they need to thrive. You’re driven to understand how schools work. You want to learn how to become a more effective advocate for what your child needs in school.

Teachers, counselors and principals: You have direct experience working with schools and families. You’ve seen which strategies work and which ones falter. We need your help to understand the realities of connecting with multilingual families and supporting English-learners in the classroom.

Experts and professors: You know what research says about best practices in the classroom. We want to connect you and your research to multilingual families and students navigating the public school system.

Students: The entire public school system exists to support you. But all too often, your voice isn’t represented in media coverage. We want to raise up your voice and empower you to advocate for your needs. High school and college students with an interest in writing, media or civic engagement are highly encouraged to apply. Current and former English-learners are more than welcome.

Community or nonprofit leaders: You have direct experience working with multilingual families, especially those living in Barrio Logan and Logan Heights. You understand how poverty, immigration policies and neighborhood conditions impact families.

What We’ll Focus On

The challenges English-learners face from preschool to graduation

What barriers prevent families from engaging with schools

How neighborhoods affect what happens in schools. We plan to focus on Logan Heights, Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, City Heights and other neighborhoods with high concentrations of multilingual families.

What’s working – and what isn’t: We always want to highlight problems and concerns in the community, as well as innovative models and other programs and practices that are working.

What We’ll Do

The hope is that once we establish an English-learner advisory group, it will convene about once a month to discuss what’s happening in schools, share questions and identify possible stories.

It helps if you have an interest in writing or media – members will have opportunities to contribute commentaries or essays, and VOSD staff will support them in the storytelling process. But experience isn’t necessary.

The only requirement for membership is a deep sense of curiosity and a desire to work together to find answers to questions about schools.

If you want to join, or know someone who would make a good candidate, reach out via email at mario.koran@voiceofsandiego.org.

If you’re interested in bilingual education in San Diego, we also invite you to join our Facebook group to share opinions, stories and thoughts.

VOSD staff writer Mario Koran is also a fellow at New America California.

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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