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The Learning Curve: We Called in Backup to Cover Bilingual Ed

Voice of San Diego has launched a new reporting project we’re calling Storyboard, an effort to convene people with a stake in bilingual education and examine the most pressing questions facing English-learners.

The Learning Curve is a weekly column that answers questions about schools using plain language. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at


The results of last week’s election lifted one major obstacle for the 113,000 students in San Diego County who are learning English – and potentially signaled the coming of new ones.

After 18 years under an English-only mandate, last week Californians approved Proposition 58, which lifts restrictions on bilingual education and makes it easier for schools to open dual-language programs. That’s good for English-learners: Research shows students in bilingual classrooms can outperform their peers in English-only classrooms. And the benefits of bilingual education extend to native English speakers, too.

Learning Curve-sq-01On a national level, though, the picture is more ominous. If President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his campaign promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the lives of thousands of local families could be disrupted.

Against this backdrop, Voice of San Diego has launched a new reporting project we’re calling Storyboard, an effort to take the most pressing questions facing English-learners and turn them into stories we report together.

Along the way, Storyboard members will get training in journalism and storytelling techniques. Some of the stories students and parents tell will be published in Voice of San Diego. VOSD staff members will work with parents and students to give editorial feedback and make their stories as compelling and impactful as possible.

Storyboard members won’t simply be news consumers. They will be news producers. And they’ll help shape the way Voice of San Diego covers education.

Close to 70 people – professors, students, teachers, parents, even a diplomat – expressed interest in joining our group. Ultimately, we chose 20 people who are intimately connected to the issue of bilingual education.

We held our first meeting last weekend at SDSU and jumped into thorny questions like:

• Do communities north of Interstate 8 value bilingual education as much as the rest of San Diego? If not, how can we bring them along?

• How will Prop. 58 be incorporated in classrooms?

• Why are so many English-learners referred for special education assessments?

• Are schools that serve high populations of English-learners getting their fair share of state funding?

All of these questions have answers. All of those answers can be turned into stories. That is the work we will do together.

Storyboard is made up of parents like Diana Ross, who grew up speaking Spanish in National City and wants to know what she can do to make sure her son’s bilingualism is seen as an asset, not a limitation.

And Gabriela Contreras-Misirlioglu, a San Diego Unified parent of four children who sees the need to provide English-learners with quality instruction as a civil rights issue and has been advocating for students’ needs for the past 10 years.

And students like Adriana Heldiz, who grew up in Chula Vista and is now a journalism student at SDSU.

All three women – Ross, Contreras-Misirlioglu and Heldiz – volunteered more than a dozen hours of their time over the summer to help shape and organize our Storyboard project.

Storyboard is a partnership between Voice of San Diego, New America California and San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Storyboard members will meet once a month to discuss relevant issues facing students who speak multiple languages. Together we’ll collect data, then plan stories that will illuminate the opportunities and challenges multilingual students and families face.

We believe there’s never been a better time to give students and parents the skills that will help them find information, become stronger advocates and tell their stories more effectively.

And it represents an incredible opportunity for Voice of San Diego to better understand the people living, working and learning in San Diego neighborhoods.

In the coming months, we hope to slowly grow the project and take in as many newcomers as we can accommodate.

If you want to join or support us, reach out to me at or connect with us on Facebook.

Storyboard is just getting rolling. There’s much work to be done and many stories yet to tell. But we’re excited about what we might find, and hope to connect with you along the way.

VOSD staff writer Mario Koran is also a fellow at New America California.

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