A program piloted by the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District over the
summer has given students new to the United States a jump start on learning. After just one
month in the immersion program, students gained an average half-year of growth in reading
The students enrolled in the summer school came from families of limited means and diverse
origins. There were 10 home languages spoken and 19 home countries represented.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment for the many refugee students starting their lives in
America after being forced to flee their homelands because of strife.
The “Breakthrough English” program targeted English Learners who have been attending
public school here for a year or less. Seventy-five students in kindergarten through 8th
grade took part in the program designed to help them improve oral language, listening,
vocabulary, beginning reading, writing, and basic math skills.
“We realized our classrooms had an increase in newcomers that presented some challenges
for our teachers,” said Elisa Holston-Arteaga, director of Instruction and Curriculum and
English Learner Services. “Many appeared to be refugees and had literacy skills in their
home language that varied.”
Some of the students were children who had lived their entire lives in refugee camps. For
them, the newcomer’s academy was more than a path to building English skills. It was also a
way to simply learn how to go to school. By the end of the program, students had gained the
ability to problem solve for themselves, feel comfortable asking questions, and follow
But the program also provided an important social aspect. Because of their diverse cultural
backgrounds and experiences, the summer school offered the children a unique opportunity
to get to know each other and start the school year having already made new friends
Assessments taken before the four-week academy started showed students had an average
reading level of a kindergartener. Tests administered following the intensive English
immersion program showed students had an average reading level that had improved to
early first grade level — or an average half-year of growth.
All the students improved in reading an average of 1.4 reading levels on the literacy
assessment, and 24 students improved at least two levels in reading.
Math growth saw similar results. Exit data showed 35 students — or 46 percent —
demonstrated a half-year or more of growth in the subject.
Guido Magliato, assistant superintendent of Learning Support, called the gains significant.
“We were really pleased with the growth,” he said. “And the students were so proud of their
Each four-hour session was packed with instruction. Participants practiced reading in small
group settings, were given English as a Second Language instruction, and also used
computers to log on to “Imagine Learning,” an online language and literacy program
designed specifically for English Learners.
“Breakthrough English,” which was held from June 26 to July 21 at Spring Valley Academy,
was funded with Title III federal funding. It is part of the district’s Local Control Accountability
Plan, which focuses on the needs of English Learners, low-income students, and foster
The program was provided free to participants, and included bus transportation and lunch
The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District serves more than 12,000 students in kindergarten
through eighth grade at 17 elementary schools, three specialized academies and a middle
school. It has a total budget of $124 million for the 2017-18 school year.