Growing up, 9th grader Tabahta Salazar did not always feel capable in English Language Arts. Classified as an English Learner, she entered school several grade levels behind her peers. But her path changed when she enrolled in Ánimo Compton Charter School’s inaugural class of nearly 100 middle school students.
In under 3 years, Salazar grew five grade levels—and is now reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, after scoring a 4, the highest mark possible, on the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC). Through a tailored academic schedule and classroom support, Salazar now has her sights set on college, and making a better future for herself and her family.
A Tight-Knit Community
At Ánimo Compton, our tight-knit school community prioritizes a rigorous and supportive college-going culture. Kristina Brubaker, the assistant principal at Ánimo Compton, said small classes have helped many students like Salazar. “Our students are not numbers; They are not a cog in the factory,” Brubaker said. “Our classes are small, and our teachers know all of our students by name.” This tight-knit community helped Salazar identify and address her strengths and areas of growth.
To meet students where they are, all incoming students take adaptive diagnostic tests to determine their ability levels. These assessments help teachers identify where our students are academically, and what areas of growth need to be targeted through instruction and intervention. From this data, educators identified Salazar's learning struggles and developed a series of support and tailored interventions such as double blocking, to get Salazar get back on track.
Through double blocking, students who are performing below grade level simultaneously enroll in a foundational course and a grade level course in math and/or reading. This combination fills in learning gaps and equips students with the skills necessary to successfully engage with grade level material.
In both her foundational and grade level courses, Salazar had the support she needed to reach English language proficiency. “My English teacher pushed me to try hard,” Salazar said. Though the classwork felt challenging, she felt inspired by her peers to give it her best. “It was the first time I ever studied,” she added. Anton Blakely, Salazar’s English teacher, said he has seen Salazar become a better thinker, writer, and reader through double blocking. “Tabhata is quiet but focused. She’s determined to learn, pushes herself, and wants to grow as a better student.”
A combination of concentrated academic support, small-group instruction, individualized scaffolding, consistent diagnostic assessments, and targeted interventions helped Salazar achieve tremendous growth in reading. In 2018, her first year at Ánimo Compton, Salazar entered middle school with a below average Lexile score. Just over two years later, she surpassed her end year projections. Her exponential growth indicated that she was not only on par with her peers, but she was also ready to be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient.
Preparing for the ELPAC
In California, all English Learner students are required to take the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) before graduating high school. When English Learners demonstrate their proficiency in English, they are recognized as Reclassified Fluent English Proficient, and are prepared to meet the standards necessary to graduate high school.
Near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Salazar planned to take the ELPAC, but a new obstacle arose at home. “We had to leave our house because my parents were behind in rent,” Salazar said. A family friend helped Salazar and her family find temporary housing, a garage converted into an accessory dwelling unit, but the cramped space hardly accommodated a family of five. What her family initially planned as a temporary housing situation turned into a year-long accommodation.
Brubaker learned of Salazar’s situation and checked-in with her frequently along the process to ensure Salazar had the support she needed to succeed in class. Salazar was one of thousands of Green Dot students who received a chromebook and wireless hotspot during the start of distance learning to ensure equal access to online classrooms.
Even though Salazar would be able to take the ELPAC at home with her computer and wireless hotspot, she lost her confidence. “When I took the test, I thought I was going to fail,” Salazar said. “When I was on the Zoom, you could hear my brother in the background, and I couldn’t focus. I felt like I couldn’t believe in myself.”
Distraught, Salazar finished the test, but dismissed any chance of passing. Suddenly, high school, life, and even college appeared more difficult.
A week later, Brubaker contacted Salazar to share her ELPAC results.
“When I told her she passed, there were tears streaming down her face. Then I cried. And we were crying together, and she was so excited, and I just told her how proud of her we are.”
Like Brubaker, Salazar’s English teachers always believed that she could do it. “I think she really sees the bigger picture and understands that where she is right now is a stepping stone along her pathway,” Blakely said. “She’s not willing to allow obstacles to derail what she wants to get to.”
With this new found success, Salazar is looking towards the future and the many goals she hopes to accomplish. Because her parents and two older brothers did not have the opportunity to graduate high school, Salazar is all the more driven to becoming the first person in her family to attend college. “I’m doing this for my family so that I can repay them for all that they’ve done for me,” Salazar said. “They are the people that are pushing me. I’m trying now so they can have a better future. I don’t want them to struggle.” She has her sights set on joining UCLA’s medical program so that she can pursue a career as a doctor and use her knowledge and skills to change the lives of others..
At Green Dot Public Schools, there is no “one size fits all” approach to education. We tailor learning environments to meet the individual needs of each of our students. When students enter our schools below grade level, we work tirelessly to accelerate their learning and get them back on the path to college. Through double-blocking, socioemotional support, academic preparation, and our college-going culture, we are equipping our students with the knowledge, skills, and confidence required for success in college, leadership, and life.
A Special Note from Tabhata Salazar to Her Family: “Thank you for working hard and thank you for being my motivation. I’m thankful and grateful for everything you all have done for me.”