San Benito CISD (SBCISD) lies at the southernmost tip of Texas, right on the border of Mexico. We have 20 schools serving over 10,000 students. Of those, approximately 2,700 are English Language learners. That’s roughly 26 percent of the student population.

As the Executive Director of Leadership and Performance at SBCISD, I work cooperatively with the administrative team to develop action plans for our at-risk student populations.

SBCISD offers a variety of programs to help remediate our at-risk kids. One such program is our very successful Gateway To Graduation alternative campus. This program incorporates a “catch and release” model providing individualized credit recovery support for students who have fallen behind on their credits so that they can get back on track for graduation.

As a result, over 500 of our students who were at-risk of dropping out have now earned their high school diploma.

In an effort to target our at-risk ELLs, our district recently embarked on a new endeavor focusing our attention on a preemptive plan for students in the earlier grades, with the aim of reducing the need for alternative education measures later on in their schooling.

To do this, our school board recently approved an administrative bilingual education action plan changing our approach from a “late exit” to an “early exit” bilingual model.

Early vs. Late Exits

For 20 years, our late exit system kept our students in a bilingual program from pre-K through fifth grade. Under this plan, our bilingual students exited into all-English classes once they reached middle school. The transition from bilingual to strictly English classrooms was often a jarring experience, affecting our student’s grades and performance on state assessments.

In an early exit model, students who demonstrate the readiness to transition from Spanish to English instruction can do so as early as the first or second grade. With this goal in mind, we are training our teachers to deliver differentiated instruction to our students by grouping them in correlation to their Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced levels of language acquisition.

With the proper transition pedagogy in place, we are providing our bilingual students the opportunity to transition into English instruction at an earlier age if they are ready to do so.

(Next page: ELL instruction, early exit for the future)

Professional Learning to Make the Transition

None of this is possible without a targeted professional development strategy. As is the case with many districts, professional development is an extremely high priority at SBCISD.

This year we offered five days at the district level and three days at the campus level prior to the first day of instruction. By front-loading our professional development at the start of the year, we ensured that our teachers’ tool belts were full of the tools they needed to apply the differentiated instruction to our students on the first day of school. This also largely eliminated the need to pull teachers out of their classrooms for training after school began.

We are continuing our professional learning throughout the school year after school hours with our Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) program.

During TTTs, teachers meet by grade level and content area after school and share their most effective teaching practices based on the standards taught during that grading period. This ongoing professional development program encourages our teachers to open up, present, and share what is working well in their classrooms with their colleagues. TTT exemplifies the belief that we are strongest for our students when we work collaboratively.

Using Literature to Our Advantage

We also recognize that a strong emphasis on reading is the key to addressing the needs of our at-risk students. This is especially true in assisting our ELL students to become proficient in English at an accelerated rate.

To facilitate our goal to have our students read as much as possible, we recently partnered with myON, an online digital library, to provide our students with 24/7 access to books and learning.

We piloted myON this last summer with a goal of having our students read more than 5,000 books to prevent the summer slide. We were very pleased when the final report came in and revealed that our students had more than doubled our district goal by reading more than 11,000 books in a period of only two months.

By providing 24/7 access to reading material for our bilingual students, we are helping them to acquire English proficiency, which promotes our early exit goals for them. Having instant access to quality, high-interest English and Spanish literature connects our students to reading in an unprecedented way in SBCISD.

ELL Instruction for the Future

Technology is advancing so quickly that we need to prepare our students to embrace any form that education may take in the distant future. Our desire to offer a curriculum that supports and prepares students who will be living well into the 22nd century also supports the P-20 Goal of our five-year strategic plan.

By integrating myON as a support for the early-exit bilingual program, we are equipping our students as early as pre-kindergarten with the essential skills and guidance that will follow them all the way to their doctorate (hence the P-20). In our fast-moving, competitive society, we feel obligated to equip our 22nd-century citizens with the tools and mindset that will prepare them to be leaders in the technologically advanced world of their futures.

As we make this transition to an early exit bilingual model for our students, we are looking forward to the opportunities we will have to equip our ELL students with the essential language skills they will need to be successful in our multilingual society.

About the Author:

Raul Trevino is the Executive Director of Leadership and Performance at the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District. He can be reached at rjtrevino@sbcisd.net.