Surrounded by a different culture and language, English language learners forge new relationships and piece together a new language. Supporting these students from a variety of backgrounds is the English Language Development (ELD) program at MVHS.
The ELD program consists of a four tiered system of classes designed for English Language Learners to develop their English skills. Normally students spend a year at each level in ELD. Outside of ELD classes, additional support is given to the students as many have recently immigrated from another country.
ELD students typically take two ELD classes in their schedule for ELD 1 and ELD 2. For ELD 3 and 4, they often take one ELD class and one English class.
The ELD department’s goals for the 2020-2021 school year include building and maintaining community among ELD students and staff, as well as helping students adjust to distance learning.
Moving to New Country
Leaving behind their family and friends, students are up against an entirely new country, which is a drastic change that can be both exhilarating and frightening.
“It’s especially hard to be a high school student when you don’t know the culture let alone the language,”said Jose Rosario, an ELD 4 teacher.
Arian Manteghi’s story
Two years ago junior Arian Manteghi left behind his grandmother, father, and friends and came to the States with his mother in the hope of a better life and education.
With an entirely different education system in Iran, Manteghi had to jump from 8th grade to 10th grade when he moved to the US. After studying eight years of English in Iran, he was placed in ELD 2 when he was a sophomore.
Despite difficulties in communication with many native Spanish speakers surrounding him, Manteghi was able to make friends.
Driven to improve, Manteghi had two tutors for English last year.
I feel like students are set up for success here.
“I feel like students are set up for success here unlike back home where it always felt more challenging.” Manteghi said.
Manteghi practiced speaking English with his aunt’s husband, a native English speaker. Manteghi’s aunt had moved to America eight years ago, which helped both Manteghi and his mother transition.
“I used to work in hospitals where I was very experienced,” Manteghi’s mother said, “And then I came here as a new immigrant losing my job which was very difficult.”
“I also had to learn the language,” Manteghi’s mother said. Although she took English classes in Iran, which she said were not as serious.
Currently, she works with autistic children after passing a certification that required hours of studying.
Since his move, Manteghi has been unable to visit his dad because of restrictions that would require him to be a soldier.
Ava Mirshafiei’s story
Senior Ava Mirshafiei moved from Iran right before the pandemic. She joined MVHS, where her cousin had been attending as well. Her father had moved to the States three years earlier to make the transition smoother for the rest of the family.
When her dad moved to the States, Mirshafiei, her mother, and sister moved to a different city in Iran.
“It was such a bad time because I lost my dad, I lost my city, I lost my home in my city,” Mirshafiei said.
In the middle of her junior year, Mirshafiei moved to the States, which she had been familiar with after multiple trips throughout the years.
America had more career opportunities than in Iran, where colleges and majors depended on a single test.
Once at MVHS, Mirshafiei was placed in ELD 3. Because of the many science classes she took in Iran, Mirshafiei already had many credits.
Mirshafiei said she feels bad about her English and her accent. She said she was quiet because she had so much to say but didn’t know how to express it.
Attending an American school is what Mirshafiei and her friends in Iran dreamed of after seeing it in American movies. Instead of a school with uniforms and separate for boys and girls, American schools had lockers and gyms and a large campus.
At school, Mirshafiei said she remembers being alone in the first month.
“I was just eating something or video calling my friends,” Mirshafiei said.
In Iran, however, Mirshafiei said, “I was friends with everybody. I was popular, I was talkative, but when I got here it was so challenging for me because nobody knew me.”
When I got here it was so challenging for me because nobody knew me
Mirshafiei found a few people who were supportive. A classmate invited her to join their group whenever she wanted, while another friend who spoke Farsi helped introduce her to new people.
Through a mutual friend from Iran, Mirshafiei was connected to another Iranian who had moved to the States two years ago. Mirshafiei said they had a lot in common and are now close friends.
Mirshafiei remembers how much fun she had in Iran, with cool friends and exciting things to do. She remembers going out to restaurants or a friend’s house, rapping to a Persian song or dancing with just a hoodie covering her hair without the typical head covering.
In America, Mirshafiei was surrounded by many ethnicities and enjoyed the diversity. Mirshafiei said she had just come to the States and was learning a new culture, meeting people from different countries when suddenly everything went online.
The American school experience and making new friends were put to a halt.
For the past few months, Mirshafiei has been working in Dunkin’ Donuts. She said she enjoys the independence of working at a job, something that most people did not do in Iran in high school.
Tony Lu’s story
After living with his grandparents in China, junior Tony Lu moved to join his parents in the States. His father came to California for a better paying job when Tony was around five years old. His mother joined his father when Tony was around eleven years old.
China’s academics were filled with pressure. Starting as early as kindergarten, most students would take additional classes outside of school to prepare for the test that determined their college admissions and effectively the level of pay of their careers.
Lu said he remembers that his classes in elementary school would start around 7:50AM and end around 6PM. Afterwards, he would attend additional classes and do homework until midnight.
While students would learn English in China, Lu said it was different from classes here.
After joining his parents in California, Lu found himself with an easier workload.
Lu said that he felt his seventh grade was much more relaxed than elementary school in China.
He remembers being unable to communicate with classmates during the getting-to-know-you activities in the first week.
“I would just sit there, and when the teacher came by me I would just say ‘I don’t speak English,’” Lu said.
The first few weeks in the States, his mom showed him different places to introduce him to the new culture, going to the beach or the Great Mall. The car brands, clean streets, and blond haired people were new to him.
After watching basketball highlights, Lu started playing basketball at lunch with other ELD students, and later made friends while playing with mainstream students.
Lu joined a basketball league in the end of eighth grade, and convinced one of his friends to join as well. “He speaks Chinese, and he always translated for me in math class,” Lu said, “He helped me a lot.”
In high school, Lu continued to make more friends. He started joining his friend to work out and play basketball at the gym.
In addition to basketball, Lu enjoys skateboarding and playing Frisbee at the park with his mom and sister.
Lu is close to his grandparents and calls them on most days.
Thatiana Paredes’s story
17-year-old Thatiana Paredes moved from El Salvador two years ago in hope for a better education and more job opportunities. Paredes visited her family in 2019.
She said she views her experience in the ELD program as positive since she was able to connect with other Spanish speakers.
Paredes’s least favorite part being in ELD program was taking the test because she was nervous but as time passed she gained confidence.
Paredes said the most difficult part of distance learning was not meeting friends and teachers.
During distance learning, Paredes said she makes schedules and plans her day.
Wendy Alas Chilin’s story
Senior Wendy Alas Chilin’s parents moved to the States when she was just a child, around sixteen years ago. Chilin, along with her brothers, moved from El Salvador four years ago, after her grandma passed away because no one could take care of them anymore .
While Chilin grew up learning English in El Salvador, she described the mindset for learning English in El Salvador as different. She said that the ELD students in MVHS pay more attention and learn faster.
After high school, Chilin aspires to be a software engineer.
Coming to the States, Chilin said she was very excited to be reunited with her parents and looked forward to meeting new people at school.
However, at school Chilin initially felt like an outsider.
“It was easier to make friends in high school than middle school because in middle school everyone had been friends since kindergarten,” Chilin said, “I felt like I had nothing to connect with.”
I felt like I had nothing to connect with.
Chilin liked the diversity of the people here but not the racism that it brought along. “Sometimes they see if you don’t speak the language and you are from a different country. They see you like you’re not like them,” Chilin said.
Chilin’s parents also had to adjust to the new country, after their move to the States sixteen years ago.
Chilin said her father worked for a construction company where people spoke only English. It was challenging for him as he often had to communicate with hand gestures.
Chilin said that her mother, who worked in a cleaning business, had a boss who didn’t respect her because she was from a different country and at the time was learning English.
After working in the daytime, her mother would dedicate time to learn English at night.
“She was tired but needed to work and help my dad learn English,” Chilin said. Chilin’s mother can now speak English after taking Adult Ed classes.
Chilin’s parents, along with the rest of the family, connect with friends of similar backgrounds at their church group.
Seoyoung Lee’s story
Freshman Seoyoung Lee moved to California four years ago from Korea because of her father’s job which required them to make the shift along with her mother and brother. This was not their first time coming to the States since they had been to Texas before.
Although Lee was never a part of the ELD program, she faced challenges articulating her words because of the different pronunciations. Lee took after school English classes for all three years in middle school.
As early as elementary school, Lee remembers rude racist comments like, “you eat cats and dogs.”
In Korea, I felt like I had an identity always united and close to everyone. Coming here everything just felt more distant and cold.
Lee struggled with the difference between American culture and Korea. “In Korea, I felt like I had an identity always united and close to everyone. Coming here everything just felt more distant and cold. There was so much racial tension,” said Seoyoung.
“It was hard to be yourself and to fit in. You had to be viewed as ‘cool’ or ‘chill’ to others,” Lee said.
Hyunah Kim, Lee’s mother, initially practiced English with her daughter. Kim said that she has been very proud of all her daughter’s accomplishments in English throughout the years.
Passionate about teaching English, Kim took up a volunteering job recently teaching children from Myanmar basic English at Star Kids, an organization for children in Sunnyvale and Fremont.
Living in multi-family apartment homes, some students don’t have the privacy of a quiet space where they can attend class. Many have to take care of younger siblings while attending Zoom class. Others face network problems.
One student struggled to connect to class after a rainstorm. “There was not enough sunlight to charge their solar power generators and their chromebooks were dead. They had no electricity to connect to class anymore.” said Daniella Quiñones, the assistant principal of MVHS.
The high rates of unemployment have impacted families financially as many parents lost in-person jobs. Tony Lu’s dad had been the owner of a restaurant but had to close it during the pandemic.
Some students have even had to balance school and jobs to pay for rent, food, and basic needs according to Quiñones. Former ELD student at MVHS, Mateo Morales said he sees students working jobs right after school and on weekends at the tutorial center, where he is currently an ELD tutor.
Some new immigrants face challenges of learning to use technology.
“You’re trying to teach someone through a computer how to use a computer,” said Quiñones.
Quiñones said that many ELD families have been impacted by the virus. Some students have even lost family members from COVID-19.
According to ELD 4 teacher Jose Rosario, the lower grades during the pandemic reflect the turbulent time that it is for students.
During distance learning, teachers and staff have had to alter the curriculum like Rosario, who has his students read shorter texts in order to spend more of the limited class time analyzing the texts.
Students have also had to adapt to the new distance learning.
Chilin describes online learning as “awkward”, with silent breakout rooms and no one actively participating in class discussions.
Mateo advises students to communicate with teachers, as he said it is common for ELD students to be afraid of asking for help.
Tony Lu said his English has gotten worse over the pandemic since he doesn’t hold casual conversations out of class.
“The hardest part of online learning is the homework load,” said Arian Manteghi.
The ELD Program
If a student indicates on a survey that their first language is not English, they are tested with an Initial ELPAC. This determines that either the student is fluent in English or they qualify for the ELD program.
Students who qualify for the program either immigrated from another country recently or grew up in the States speaking their native language with their family without becoming fluent in English.
To advance a student along the four levels in the ELD program, teachers judge a student’s level based on their writing in class, the yearly ELPAC assessment, and the yearly EDGE assessment.
Reclassification depends on their ELPAC score, grades in their ELD classes and English classes, their score on the EDGE assessment, and parent input. Reclassification is when the student advances beyond the ELD program which results in a change to their language status on their transcript.
For language-heavy subjects such as science and history, SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English) classes are offered with a curriculum that provides language support.
SDAIE classes allow ELD students to take classes that would count towards their college requirements in addition to high school graduation requirements.
While MVHS counts ELD designated classes towards graduation requirements, some of these classes— like Pre-Biology, which is designated for ELD 1 students— do not count towards a-g requirements of UCs and CSUs.
ELD students normally have to double up on English and ELD classes, as ELD classes 1 through 3 do not count towards a-g requirements.
Alumni Mateo Angel Morales recalls having to take two mainstream English classes every year since being reclassified, which he said was very overwhelming.
“But I made it through and I’m sure anybody can too,” Mateo said.
Rosario said that when ELD students learn about what classes satisfy requirements, a few ask to skip a level in ELD. Students either end up doing well in their higher ELD classes or need to go down a level since it’s harder to keep up.
According to Rosario, some ELD students take classes in the summer or at a community college in order to be able to meet their a-g requirements, which is especially challenging to fulfill for those who came to the States later in their high school years.
Rosario said sometimes this makes students have to stay in high school for a fifth year.
As many families have to start over in a new country, they sometimes need support, whether through parent information meetings, financial support, or tutoring programs.
The MVHS community has supplied gift cards, holiday baskets, and food to those who are struggling financially, some of whom had recently immigrated. According to Quiñones, the school was able to raise 50,000 dollars in food and food gift cards last spring.
Some programs like the CSA (Community Service Agency) have helped families pay rent and utility bills through assistance programs.
Hope’s Corner, has worked to provide families with necessities like food, while the Uplift program has provided resources for unemployment and housing.
Founded in 2019, Elevation has worked to organize and monitor meals.
In addition to support for families, students are provided with academic support, usually through an adult instructional assistant in class, the Tutorial Center which has several bilingual tutors, and tutoring programs like Just Read and Just Math.
Arian Manteghi said he has been working with tutors to help him with his English and math during his busy workload.
Along with help on class material, support is also offered to inform ELD students about other aspects of the education system.
Started by MVHS teacher Sarah Block, Advisory homerooms are conducted during office hours, while before the pandemic were during Tutorial Period. Advisory homerooms inform ELD students about topics outside of their classes, from how to register for classes to the college admissions process.
According to Rosario, sessions alternate between unstructured walk-ins and presentations from teachers, counselors, and alumni from the ELD program.
With some ELD students having difficult situations for Zooming from home, bringing select cohorts back to campus has allowed some ELD students to attend online classes from MVHS or the Adult Education Center.
Rosario said during distance learning he has been receiving more tutors as he has three Ambassadors show up to help students through class activities every week.
After a drastic change like moving to a new country, students not only need academic support but also emotional support.
Imagine losing all your friends and having to start over. You don’t understand what’s on TV, and you miss being able to really connect with your neighbors.
“Imagine losing all your friends and having to start over. You don’t understand what’s on TV, and you miss being able to really connect with your neighbors. You’re going to need some therapy,” Rosario said.
Located in Mountain View, CHAC (Community Health Awareness Council) provides counselors and therapists to work with students, even providing support for families and classes for parents.
The parent groups, El Cafecito for Spanish speakers and Teatime for Mandarin speakers, inform ELD parents about the American education system, graduation requirements, and navigating the school website.
ELAC, the federally mandated English Learner Advisory Council, also serves ELD parents by discussing the education system and how to support their children’s academics.
According to Quiñones, the school brings outside speakers to talk to parents about community resources available, from financial resources to immigration workshops.
The Adult Education Center provides classes that many parents of ELD students take to learn English, including Wendy Alas Chilin’s mom and Tony Lu’s mom.
Reclassified from ELD
Mateo Angel Morales, who is currently enrolled in Foothill Community College, moved to MVHS from Colombia for his sophomore year. He was placed in ELD 1, where he worked to improve his English.
Mateo began reading books and watching movies to speed up his learning.
“I saw learning English as a need rather than a want,” Mateo said.
I saw learning English as a need rather than a want
In the middle of his sophomore year, Mateo was moved to ELD 2. He was reclassified the next year, effectively advancing all four ELD levels as a sophomore.
“Mateo is a great kid,” Rosario said, “Having that level of persistence and work ethic and good background from the education system back in Colombia— all of those factors make a big difference.”
Mateo’s brother, Samuel Angel Morales, was in middle school when he moved to the States. Currently a senior, Samuel was reclassified from the ELD program after his junior year.
Samuel said learning English was a challenge, yet, he said, “It was a fun challenge.”
Wanting to improve his English, Samuel and his friends began only speaking in English with each other.
“I told them to help me practice my English,” Samuel said.
Samuel said listening to American music also helped him learn the language faster.
Since joining ASB during his junior year, Samuel has been the ASB ELD Liason. He gives announcements to ELD students about events around campus, from homecoming to movie nights.
“Samuel’s done a great job,” Mateo said, “I wish somebody would have done this when I was in my sophomore year or junior year.”
Mateo said he didn’t start becoming more involved in the school community until later in high school.
“I was always afraid or I didn’t know what was going on,” Mateo said.
Both Samuel and Mateo said they connected more to the MVHS community by joining the school soccer team.
Mateo also joined Ambassadors, working on community outreach, whether helping incoming freshmen or holding potlucks for ELD students.
Through Ambassadors, Mateo tried to address what he had felt as an ELD student.
That feeling like you’re an outcast, it’s definitely, definitely there
“That feeling like you’re an outcast— it’s definitely definitely there,” Mateo said, noting that he is sure many current ELD students also feel this way.
Mateo later began tutoring at the Tutorial Center, which he still continues as an alumni. He also has helped ELD classes over Zoom.
“A thing bothering ELD students is that we are afraid to ask for help,” Mateo said. Both Mateo and Samuel advise current ELD students to not hesitate to ask for help from teachers.
In addition, Mateo said he would advise ELD students to join clubs, play sports, and get to know people.
From his own experience, Mateo said moving to America changed his “whole outlook on life.”
In the diverse MVHS community, Mateo said he finds it interesting “to see different cultures melting together, people interacting with each other, and not really caring where they’re from, as long as their values are the same or their interests are the same.”
Mateo said he learned a lot from different cultures, with friends from Mexico to El Salvador to Sweden and America.
“It’s definitely changed my outlook, because every single time I meet someone, I’m ready to learn something new,” Mateo said.