LAUSD Expert Hilda Maldonado to Speak in Brussels on Improving Instruction for Second-Language Students in High School

LOS ANGELES (March 29, 2015) – Addressing the challenges of educating students who are learning English in high school, Hilda Maldonado, executive director of Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department for the Los Angeles Unified School District, is scheduled to speak on Tuesday, June 9, at an international symposium in Brussels, Belgium.

The theme of the conference, sponsored by the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, is: “Improving Instruction and Support for Students with a Migrant Background and Language Minority Pupils in the Secondary Grades: A Transatlantic Symposium on Improving Teacher and Administrator Capacities.”

“I am keenly attuned of the role that language plays in the classroom,” Maldonado said.

Her personal experience informs her professional expertise.

“My family moved here from Mexico when I was 11. I remember my first day in fifth grade at Latona Elementary School. I could understand no one,” said Maldonado, whose first language is Spanish. “I spent a very long time not talking and just observing how others interacted.”

Back then, classes were taught in English and students like Maldonado were pulled out for English as a Second Language instruction for one-hour a day.

Today, Maldonado focuses on how large systems, like L.A. Unified, should address these critical challenges. Nearly 50,000 students have been classified as English Language Learners in District high schools.; while 80 percent were born or have been in this country for years and are considered Long Term English Learners, 20 percent are newcomers. The goal is the same for both groups: to graduate proficient in English, while becoming college-and-career ready.

“We collaborated with the Migration Policy Institute’s research and study on the educational experiences and outcomes of first and second generation immigrant youth across California,” Maldonado explained. “In LAUSD, as a result of our Office for Civil Rights Agreement we began to separate the newcomer immigrant youth from the long-term English Learners, and both groups receive instruction that is designed to accelerate their language, learning and academic success. Long Term English Learners are enrolled in courses that have been approved by the University of California Office of the President as meeting the A-G (college-prep) requirement and therefore, these students are now able to stay on track for A-G.”

The strategies works.

“Over the past three years, we have increased the rate of long-term English Learners who are reclassified,” she said. “And, we have decreased the number of long-term English-learners who are going into high school and as result many of them are able to complete A-G courses more readily.”

L.A. Unified has the nation’s largest English Learner population, enrolling students who speak over 96 languages, the largest of which at 74 percent, is Spanish.

In Brussels, the Harvard-educated Maldonado will speak on the school district’s “efforts to support high-quality instruction for language minority and migrant students.” She will share lessons learned from the success of L. A. Unified. She also will provide examples of system-wide professional development and training initiatives for teachers focused on effective instruction and support for students who are learning English.

“I’m keenly aware of how our teachers need help so they can support the youngsters in this District at a systemic level because 50 percent of our population in LAUSD at some point in their education has had some sort of language need.” This includes, she explained, Standard English Learners, students whose home language is English but who lack academic language to succeed.

Maldonado began her career 25 years ago in L.A. Unified as a bilingual teacher. Early on, she recognized a major problem. “My first principal handed me a workbook for my students. The language of the workbook was Castillian Spanish,” she said, which is spoken in Spain. Most of her students were from Mexico. Maldonado told her principal, “I cannot use this workbook because the students’ don’t speak Castillian Spanish.” As a result, she and a team of teachers developed lesson plans appropriate for students who came from Mexico and other countries in Latin America.

She remembers starting the fifth-grade at Latona Elementary as a student. “I was standing in line, and a boy came up and poked me in the eye with a pencil, and I stood there, holding my eye because I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t have the language or understood the social norms for asking for help” she said.

Today, she gets it personally.

“My heart goes out to our youngsters, teachers and leaders who support them, because many times the students are misunderstood and treated differently because they speak a different language or may appear to not understand, like I did when I would remain silent in class because I didn’t have the language to respond appropriately,” At the same time, “I believe that education is the key to success for families, communities and our country. It certainly made a difference in my life journey and I wish the same for all our students,” Maldonado said.

She also gets it professionally. “I am a proud graduate and member of L.A. Unified. I am grateful for everything the teachers did to help me reach success.”

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Contact: Gayle Pollard-Terry (213) 241-6766

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