The Faces of ELD

In the second of a pair of stories on the English Language Development program, the Falconer takes a closer look at the experiences of non-native English learners at TPHS.

Ciao, Privet, Hola! Ni hao, Bonjour! Guten Tag, Shalom! Anyoung haseyo!

A myriad of greetings in different tongues rings through the halls. A sort of United Nations, a vibrant melting pot of cultures and dialects is alive and thriving in the English Language Development classes at TPHS.

Simply, ELD is a transitional program designed for students new to the United States to adjust to speaking English before being thrown into mainstream classes in the chaotic American high school experience. TPHS boasts the largest English language learner population in the district with more than 150 students from all corners of the globe.

“If you were to visit other high schools here in San Diego, the majority of ELD students would be speaking Spanish or out in East County it’s probably Farsi,” Staci Ortiz-Davis, an ELD 3 teacher, said. “But in my class alone I have German, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Russian; it’s just so diverse and to see these cultures come together to bond and to share their native heritage is so beautiful.”

According to Ortiz-Davis, an ELD class is similar to a mainstream English class, except with a greater emphasis on grammar, communication and academic vocabulary.

More than teaching new words and the weird tidbits of English grammar, Ortiz-Davis along with the other ELD teachers strive to create a home away from home for foreign students.

“At Thanksgiving we have this big potluck where everybody brings the food of their country,” said Joanne Serrano, ELD 1 and 2 teacher and past ELD lead of 18 years. “We tell them to get out of their comfort zone and try food from … somewhere where [they’ve] never had food from before.”

These projects allow ELD students to exhibit pride in their home countries’ ways of life and appreciate those of others. They are also a source of comfort, especially when centered around food.

“I miss the food in China,” Jasmine Liu (10), who moved here from Shanghai back in September, said. Though she admits that San Diego’s Chinese food scene is somewhat lackluster, she recommends Taste of Hunan for some real, authentic eats.

Dylan Park (10) from Suwon, South Korea and Isadora Oliveira (10) from Sao Paulo, Brazil relate to missing the tastes of home.

While Park longs for the distinct crispiness of Korean fried chicken that Americans cannot seem to replicate, Oliveira dreams of Pao de queijo, a kind of Brazilian cheese bread.

Longing for their favorite foods from home is just one aspect of the deep feeling of homesickness all ELD students share.

“These kids have left behind their friends and family and … now they’re coming here, often not by choice, and having to start all over again,” Serrano said.

As if surviving high school were not hard enough, ELD students have the added challenge of constantly having to translate everything around them, which is both exhausting and uncomfortable, according to Ernest Shiroyan (10) who moved from Yerevan in Armenia at the end of the 2022 school year.

This struggle is something that bleeds into every aspect of ELD students’ lives in America.

“If you are less social and you are in a class with 40 kids who are all Americans who have lived here their whole lives, it is harder to make friends because they all know each other already,” said Evya Kukui (10) who moved to the U.S. from Northern Israel a year and a half ago.

Though the ELD program does not include a magic fix to cure these maladies, it does arm its students with the tools needed to succeed in the U.S.

“I hope I teach my students to believe in themselves and that being bilingual is truly such a gift that will get them so far in life,” Serrano said. “I think they have social skills that a lot of our other students don’t have that will be so valuable to future employers or at any university to show that they are so adaptable.”

In addition to progressing through the four levels of ELD and prospering in regular TPHS classes, many of the program’s students have gone on to attend prestigious four-year universities in the U.S. Seeing this immense progression of their students is a favorite aspect of the program for the ELD teachers.

“I saw where they started and now here we are months later and I have witnessed tremendous growth,” Ortiz-Davis said. “They are writing beautiful essays, they speak to one another in English, they laugh, they’ve connected and they feel very confident when they get up in class and they speak.”

Some TPHS students may are wary of interacting with ELD students; afraid of being misunderstood. After all, Serrano says her students are often shocked at the strange antics of Americans, like not using umbrellas even when it is pouring rain. But ELD teachers share a collective hope that TPHS students born here will realize the sheer strength and indomitable human spirit necessary to immigrate to a new country.

“Look to help them practice English and don’t think like, ‘Oh, I can’t talk to them because they may not understand me.’ Just try and maybe you can learn something about their culture and language too,” Serrano said. “They’re very open and they want to meet you and become integrated in American culture.”

Kindness, empathy and openness are universal. A smile has the power to make someone’s day, no matter what country they come from and what language they speak.

https://issuu.com/falconerweb/docs/final_march_issue/10
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One thought on “The Faces of ELD

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