Alexander Valley's English as a Second Language classes empower immigrants
In 2009, Lynn Horowitz had an epiphany. If the infrastructure for schools is in place during the day, why can’t a second school be offered after hours using the same physical resources? And so began the Alexander Valley Adult and Family English as a Second Language School. The school operates under the umbrella of the Alexander Valley Union School District.
The program runs ESL classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week for 45 adults and 14 children, and in mid-January added computer literacy classes on Wednesdays. Because of their popularity, a computer component also has been blended into the ESL classes.
Before the 2009 school year started, Horowitz approached Bob Raines, then-principal of the Alexander Valley School, with the idea of starting the program. According to Horowitz, Raines jumped on board immediately, and his replacement, Matt Reno, has been generous and welcoming.
Most of those served by the program are parents of Alexander Valley School students, although no one is turned away. And while most of the ESL students are Spanish-speaking, the program also has served two Farsi-speaking parents.
“We wanted to help parents, who sometimes struggled to help their children, get an education themselves,” said Horowitz. The program offers parents attending the program childcare for $20 per school year. Their children get homework help as well as socialization, games and mentorship by teens. The multi-generational thread ties the program together in a neat package.
“We serve an underserved community and empower immigrants to embrace their community, as well as to foster love and respect for learning across generations, between parents and children,” said Horowitz.
Four teachers - Kyle Cott, Margaret McCabe, Martha Lynne and Sylvie Anne Moore - currently run the program, with Maria Arreola providing support services. In addition, Santa Rosa Junior College’s ESL department offers substitutes, curriculum advice and mentor teachers.
ESL students are charged a $20 per year book fee. Their children, from preschool through sixth grade, attend the childcare program.
Daisy Zavala epitomizes the binding threads of the program. Her entire family has been involved in the program at one time or another.
Daisy’s mother, Diana Zavala, joined the family ESL classes when Daisy was in the third grade, and brought her along for childcare. Daisy said she blossomed as a result of the care she received from the helpful teenage mentors. After three years, she graduated from the sixth grade and came back as a teen mentor.
Daisy found ways to help her students learn new skills, as well as ways to organize her own skills so that she could help students of different ages with their coursework, she said. While she has moved on to Healdsburg High School and is no longer part of the program, she said she still sees students who greet her happily, indicate how much they miss her and thank her for her help.
Diana Zavala enrolled in the program to improve her English, Daisy said. “She works in housekeeping, and the classes helped her communicate with her clients.” Then her father, Alex Zavala, joined the classes, improving his English skills by leaps and bounds.
The household’s two youngest students, Diego and Christian, also have felt a positive impact from the program. Christian passed the required English Language Learner tests earlier than both his siblings.
The Second Language School offers classes at three levels - beginner, low intermediate and high intermediate. Horowitz said she insists on accountability in all of the programs, including pre-kindergarten outcomes for children enrolled in the daycare program. There are no dropouts, and student progress is charted through testing. The school celebrates twice a year, once at Christmas and a second time in June, when students receive certificates of achievement.
Looking to the future, Horowitz said she would like to see the program used as a model to create similar programs across the Bay Area and beyond, turning buildings that serve as elementary schools by day into language schools by night.
The ESL program is supported by a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the John Jordan Foundation, Our Family Foundation and the Berkeley-based Uplands Family Foundation. It also is supported by vineyards and wineries in Alexander Valley that include Horowitz’s Rio Lago Vineyards, Hoot Owl, Haffner, Wasson and Stuhlmuller vineyards.