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How one program is helping English learners succeed starting in preschool

November 12, 2015
English Language Learners
Sarah Tully

Lopez’s class is part of the Sobrato Early Academic Language, or SEAL, program that aims to help English learners starting in preschool so they don’t struggle in school later. SEAL classes stress vocabulary, talking and role-playing among students, while their teachers undergo extensive training and their parents are encouraged to get involved. The program, founded in 2008, is seen as a model of how to educate young English learners and has won awards from the California School Board Association and the California Association for Bilingual Education.

Children who participated in the first SEAL classes began preschool with limited skills in both their native languages and English, but by the time they entered kindergarten their scores were equal to or higher than a comparison group of peers on language, literacy and mathematics tests, according to findings from a Sobrato-funded evaluation. By the end of preschool, 82 percent of children were at grade level on math tests.

“We were able to bring it to life in real schools,” said Laurie Olsen, a researcher specializing in English learners who developed the SEAL program. “I knew there had to be a prevention piece or we’d constantly be playing catch-up.”