The journey of learning English: How ELD students improved

The beginning of a new school year in the English Language Development class (ELD) presents another opportunity for students in the class coming from abroad to improve their English, as well as their confidence at school. Since several ELD students started at Redwood, and spent multiple years involved in the ELD class, they found their English skills improved. As junior Ruthielem “Ruth” De Britto and sophomore Saidy Reyes begin a new year with the ELD class, they reflect on their experience with ELD, and the significant support system it has provided in helping them develop English skills.

De Britto initially came in 2015 to the United States from Goiania, Brazil. She attended Pinole Middle School in Richmond for eighth grade. Even though De Britto attended an American school prior to her arrival at Redwood, she still spoke very little English and struggled to communicate with people.

“I was scared because my English was not that good, so starting in a new school [with] different people and not knowing everybody was kind of hard. But the ELD class, Ms. McCrea and everyone helped a lot,” De Britto said.

To help students improve their English, the ELD class focuses on improving their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills through collaboration and conversation. De Britto found that what helped her the most was conversing with others in the class.

Poring over notes in their binder, Madu Ferreira Vidal and Ruth De Britto help each other study.

Poring over notes in their binder, Madu Ferreira Vidal and Ruth De Britto help each other study.

“I say to everyone that I can survive. I think [my English] is okay. I can go to school, I can buy things, I can talk to people, so I think it’s getting better,” De Britto said.

Debbie McCrea, an AP Spanish and ELD teacher, has been teaching ELD at Redwood for over 10 years. According to McCrea, her husband immigrated from Mexico, so she understands the struggles one faces in adapting to a new country and wants to provide a resource for the students both in an academic and emotionally supportive way. She says she is impressed by their diligent work ethic and their eagerness to learn.

“I highly admire these students that come to Redwood and don’t know the language and the culture. The truth is, they inspire me because they work so hard and so much. They appreciate the education and they appreciate the opportunities that Redwood offers. It’s lovely,” McCrea said.

Reyes, another student in the ELD class, is a sophomore from Guatemala. She moved from Quetzaltenango, a city nestled in the country’s western highlands. Upon arriving in the United States in 2017, Reyes spoke very little English, as her old school in Guatemala did not have a proper English course. Now, Reyes can understand more, but she still struggles to speak the language.

Sitting in the quad, Saidy Reyes takes in another sunny day at Redwood.

Sitting in the quad, Saidy Reyes takes in another sunny day at Redwood.

“I can always understand what my teachers are saying, but I can’t speak [English] much. I think everyone fears speaking another language,” Reyes said.

Although Reyes says she is shy and can only say a few words, she still recognizes the importance of making an effort in trying to speak English, as it is essential for her to be able to progress at Redwood.

“I can understand English, so I know that I need to speak it, because if I don’t try to improve, if I don’t do it myself, no one will [learn English] for me,” Reyes said.

Over the years that McCrea has taught ELD, she has noted that many students enter the class with a basic understanding of English, but after only one year of studying, McCrea observes significant improvement in their aptitude for the language.

“The growth is phenomenal. Students come in, speaking nothing, and in a year they are able to speak. In two or three years they all speak. It’s incredible. Many receive a diploma. Last year, seven or eight [students] in the [ELD] program graduated,” McCrea said.

Standing proudly next to the ELD class sign, (left to right) Madu Ferreira Vidal, ELD paraeducator Xenia Rodriguez, Maria Villar, and ELD teacher Debbie McCrea are excited about another day in class.

Standing proudly next to the ELD class sign, (left to right) Madu Ferreira Vidal, ELD paraeducator Xenia Rodriguez, Maria Villar, and ELD teacher Debbie McCrea are excited about another day in class.

Although most ELD students end up excelling in English, learning a new language requires immense hard work and dedication throughout the language developing process, and beyond.

Both Reyes and Debritto still struggle with their English, yet they believe that their skills are more advanced than they would be without the ELD class. Reyes believes that to quickly develop English skills, it is important for students new to English and ELD to be confident and unafraid to ask for help.

“[You] should have confidence in yourself. Don’t waste your time, and focus on your English. Always ask your teachers questions, and if they don’t understand, ask someone else, like the ELD teacher, Ms. McCrea. Don’t focus on what other people think [when you speak English] and think about what you find is right,” Reyes said.

Share this article: