Almost 30,000 students attend classes in the Chula Vista Elementary School District in California.
The elementary school district is the largest in the state. It operates 45 schools between the city of San Diego and the United States border with Mexico.The majority of students are between five and 12 years old.
The district is also one of California’s most diverse. Sixty-eight percent of students are Hispanic and 35 percent are learning English.
Some of the students come from the Mexican city of Tijuana and speak Spanish at home. The English language ability among these students differs widely.
The Salt Creek Elementary School works with students in the town of Chula Vista, about 15 kilometers north of the Mexican border. The boys and girls there share their cultural traditions and learn from one another, including the languages spoken by other students.
Francisco Escobedo heads the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
“We see Spanish as an asset, not a liability. So we use that richness that they come with and build upon it.”
The public discussion of immigration issues during and after the 2016 elections led California to take action. Escobedo wrote to the parents across the school district. He told them that their elementary schools were safe areas for students of all citizenship situations.
He said the letter helped ease worries.
“I received an email … from a teacher, thanking me for that letter that helped her talk to her child and ease his fear, because he came to school crying,” Escobedo said. “He came to school in fear that someone will come and remove him from the classroom.”
In Chula Vista, the classroom is more than a safe place, however. It is where boys and girls can celebrate bilingualism and the sharing of cultures.
Emma Sanchez heads the Language Development and Instruction Services and Support office at Chula Vista elementary schools.
“Our students come and go from both countries, so we want to empower and build our teachers’ capacity to support the children in both languages.”
Sixth-grader Valeria came to the United States from Tijuana. She describes her life as ideal in her ability to speak two languages and often travels across across the border into Mexico.
“It’s mainly just going back and forth, visiting my dad and coming back to my mom, and then going to school.”
Others, like fourth grader Lucia, say bilingualism is important so they can communicate with students and extended family.
“I feel happy because I’m with my grandparents and I’m really happy that I see them because sometime time flies, so I better stay with my grandparents until they’re gone.”
Lucia hopes her language skills will help her get a good job, and meet people from many more cultures around the world.
I’m Caty Weaver.