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Expanded Learning Opportunity Grants: Recommendations for Making them Work for English Learners

The COVID relief package that the California legislature approved to support public schools and that Governor Newsom signed on March 5, included $2 billion for In-Person Instruction (IPI) Grants and $4.6 billion for Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Grants. Per CDE, to be eligible for ELO Grant funding, “LEAs must implement a learning recovery program, that at a minimum, provides supplemental instruction, support for social and emotional well-being, and…meals and snacks to specified student groups…who have faced adverse learning and social-emotional circumstances.” These grants can be used to support “extending instructional learning time, accelerating progress to close learning gaps, integrated pupil supports, community learning hubs, supports for credit deficient pupils, additional academic services, and training for school staff.”

In order to receive their ELO Grant funding allocation, the governing board of a school district must approve an ELO Grant Plan at a public meeting on or before June 1, 2021. In a year in which  many English learners (ELs) have faced significant learning loss, it is critical that these funds are used strategically to close gaps as effectively as possible. Therefore, to meet the needs of ELs in the implementation of their ELO Grant Plans, school districts should ensure that their expanded learning programs are not traditional, but programs that are engaging, enriching, and joyful. Such programs should incorporate the following components:

  1. Project-based and experiential learning;
  2. Socioemotional learning;
  3. English language development;
  4. Differentiation for different typologies of ELs; and
  5. Culturally and linguistically relevant practices.

This fact sheet describes each of these focus areas and offers examples of how districts have incorporated aspects of these areas. We hope that each of these five areas are included in each district’s ELO Grant Plan so that the needs of ELs are met. 

1) Project-based and experiential learning

As students come back to school, engagement and learning linked to real-world experiences should be a priority. Expanded learning should not be “traditional” or remedial –  it must be an opportunity for students to learn skills and content through projects that incorporate a well-rounded education, including science, math, and the arts. Specifically for ELs, project-based learning and experiential learning that offer engaging language development activities are critical. For additional support, districts should consider partnering with community based organizations to provide enriching opportunities for students, including  adult mentors or counselors tied to practical career experiences in a field of interest. 

To ensure that the needs of ELs are met, district ELO Grant Plans should include project-based and experiential learning by:

  • Ensuring that expanded learning opportunities are centered on projects that build student skills and content knowledge, promote collaboration and language development, and are tied to students’ experiences. 
  • Building partnerships with community organizations that can bring in mentors and role models, and provide experiential opportunities tied to what students are learning. 

Los Angeles Unified School District: Summer School for Newcomer Students. The district is offering summer school for newcomer students as a strategy to engage them and prepare them for the regular school year. The district has designed a curriculum focused on project based learning that incorporates language and art. 

Azusa Unified School District: Multidisciplinary Summer Learning. The district will be extending instructional learning time by offering three 12-day sessions of summer learning acceleration for students, with priority enrollment for ELs. Students have the option of attending one, two, or three sessions, as a way of providing flexibility for families who may have other summer commitments. The instructional program is designed to provide ELs with multidisciplinary units incorporating language development. The units also include project-based learning in science, math, social science, and fine arts topics, while  incorporating social emotional development. The district’s goal is to provide a fun, engaging, and collaborative structure for ELs to develop language and accelerate learning, providing authentic opportunities for them to engage in academic discourse around complex questions or problems. To help deliver this and layer funds with 21st Century Learning grants, the district is partnering with Think Together, who currently operates their  community learning hubs and after school learning program. Additionally, the sessions will be offered in Spanish for students in bilingual programs.

2) Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

There is considerable, and mounting evidence that the pandemic has imposed significant stress and trauma on ELs and their families. Therefore, any expanded learning time must first meet the socioemotional needs of students and understand the specific needs of ELs. 

There is still room for improvement in this area as evidenced by our review of Learning Continuity and Attendance (LCP) Plans that districts developed in fall 2020. According to this report, while all districts described plans to provide students with access to social-emotional support, 59 percent did not describe how these supports would be available in the students’ home languages. Moreover, one in four districts had weak or no plans for teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) within instruction, while nearly three in four districts did not include considerations for ELs in their professional learning plans meant to support SEL. 

To ensure that the needs of ELs are met, district ELO Grant Plans should support social-emotional learning by:

  • Ensuring that SEL supports are available in the students’ home languages; and 
  • Providing all educators with professional learning for being responsive to student social-emotional needs within instruction, including considerations for ELs.

Glendale Unified School District: Counseling Resources for Schools and Families. The district brought on 33 social worker and counseling interns and has two psychological service providers who are assigned to schools. In addition, the district provides virtual counseling services to students through Telehealth and develops weekly mindfulness videos that are posted on the district website and shared with teachers. To reach and support multilingual families, the district has “health parent forums, parent support groups, and parent helplines in English, Armenian, and Spanish.”

West Contra Costa Unified School District: Integrated Homeroom Support During the School Day. Schools conducted SEL surveys of students to establish baseline data and track progress multiple times during the school year. The district also established a “homeroom” advisory period at all grade levels to serve as a central component of distance learning, where “teachers will provide social-emotional learning via a variety of curricular options.” Families of ELs also “receive direct counselor communications, including referrals and access to available resources,” with all information available “with translation or in languages spoken at home.”

3) English Language Development (ELD) Instruction and Assessment

ELs have lost significant learning time, including time for designated and integrated ELD. Therefore a central focus for the ELO Grant Plans must be to provide additional time for these students to receive the ELD instruction and support they deserve. This includes time for designated ELD and professional development for educators to deliver integrated ELD instruction in all core subjects. Providing designated and integrated ELD supports is not only required by law, but also a critical way to keep linguistic and academic development on track.

As evidenced by our review of Learning Continuity and Attendance (LCP) Plans, almost all districts described how they would provide ELD. However, nearly half did not specify weekly time for ELD instruction. Meanwhile, 44 percent of districts had no or weak descriptions for providing evidence-based strategies for integrated ELD support in at least some core subjects (One in nine districts did not mention integrated ELD at all!). Similarly, 22 percent of plans made no mention of professional development to help teachers to deliver ELD services. 

To ensure that the needs of ELs are met, district ELO Grant Plans must ensure designated and integrated ELD, including:

  • Guaranteeing time for designated ELD instruction within the daily lesson plans;
  • Providing materials and evidence-based strategies to ensure that ELs receive integrated ELD supports in all core subjects; and
  • Providing all educators and administrators with professional development to deliver ELD services.

Calexico Unified School District: Guaranteed Time for Live ELD Instruction. During distance learning, the district specified guaranteed times of live ELD instruction. Elementary ELs received 30 minutes of live ELD instruction four days per week and asynchronous ELD on the fifth day, while most secondary ELs received designated ELD in one of their periods (newcomer students were guaranteed daily ELD instruction). The district also provides ELD intervention classes to ELs who show learning loss, are at risk of becoming LTELs, or are LTELs. These classes are taught by EL Interventions Teachers, who also collaborate with classroom teachers, monitor participation, and connect with parents when the student is not engaged. 

San Diego Unified School District: Educator Support for Designated and Integrated ELD. The district described the delivery of ELD through a “push-in integrated model.” This model builds the capacity of a broad range of educators who work with ELs (including teachers, paraeducators, district resource teachers, education specialists, counselors, and administrators) to deliver effective teaching practices that support ELD. Coaching and a co-teaching model also provide additional support for classroom teachers in delivering designated ELD and planning integrated ELD strategies within content courses.

4) Responsiveness to Different EL Profiles

ELs are racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse. They enter public school at different ages and with diverse linguistic proficiencies in their native languages and English. This diversity should inform the instructional models and strategies used to support them.

As evidenced by our review of Learning Continuity and Attendance (LCP) Plans, districts are struggling with this differentiation. Half of plans did not mention strategies for supporting Dual Language Learners (DLLs) in preschool, 37 percent did not mention supports targeted for newcomers, and 32 percent had no plans specific to Long-Term English Learners (LTELs).

District ELO Grant Plans should differentiate strategies to meet the specific needs of different typologies of ELs, including:

  • Providing specialized support for LTELs, including ELD support to ensure access to the core curriculum (grades 6-12), attention to oral and writing proficiency, and educator professional development focused on delivering an engaging curriculum that addresses their specific language development needs.  
  • Providing specialized support for newcomer students, including identifying strengths in their home language, level of English proficiency, and basic knowledge of schooling; providing ELD support to ensure access to the core curriculum; and designing lessons that build upon student background knowledge. Counselors and educators should also receive professional development on meeting SEL, language, and academic needs.   
  • Providing multilingual support in English and the home language for students in dual-language programs, including by  assessing the strengths and needs of students in English and their home language, and providing professional development for teachers that includes reflection on how distance learning has impacted academic and language development (in both languages) and strategies for delivering instruction that builds bilingualism and biliteracy.

Oakland Unified School District: Newcomer Supports. The district has newcomer teacher leaders at selected schools with a high concentration of newcomers to provide them with small group instruction and support teachers “to embed linguistically and culturally responsive supports.” At the secondary level, newcomer assistants provide instruction to small groups of students. In addition, the district has a staff of 12 newcomer social workers that help address basic needs, such as supporting families to access financial resources.

San Diego Unified School District: Coaching Team to Support LTELs. The district “integrated coaching team” analyzes data “to determine action steps needed to support Long Term English Learners” and other students at risk of becoming LTELs. The district also provides professional development to help teachers with strategies to support this group of students.

Azusa Unified School District: SEAL Summer Bridge Units for DLLs.  During summer 2021, the district is planning for preschool DLLs and TK students to utilize SEAL Summer Bridge Units to continue their SEAL instructional learning program. The SEAL Summer Bridge Units correspond to the project-based units planned for the summer program and reinforce the instructional practice their early learners are receiving during the regular program.

5) Culturally and Linguistically Relevant Practices

Given that many ELs and their families face significant stress or trauma caused by the pandemic, schools must be prepared to engage and support them in culturally affirming ways. As students come back to in-person learning, schools should collaborate more comprehensively with families-including linguistically and culturally diverse families. This means working with families in linguistically and culturally competent ways to build capacity to best help students  succeed. All communications to families should be translated into languages they speak and understand. Ideally, these efforts are led by staff who speak the languages of ELs and their families.

School staff are critical to ensuring culturally and linguistically relevant practices, therefore professional development activities for certificated and classified staff must address elements of cultural proficiency/competency (i.e., cross-cultural interactions, role of culture, and culturally- responsive instruction and curriculum), and address cultural differences in communication patterns and their impact on EL learning and achievement. Additionally, instructional resources and courses should support a culturally responsive environment, including units in Spanish and other languages, supporting the use of students’ home languages, and ensuring that literature and other instructional resources are relevant to the variety of cultures.

As evidenced by our review of Learning Continuity and Attendance (LCP) Plans, this is an area for districts to continue to improve and build partnerships. Over half of plans had no evidence that professional development opportunities would address cultural proficiency or competency. 

To ensure that the needs of ELs are met, district ELO Grant Plans must center culturally and linguistically relevant practices, including:

  • Prioritizing bilingual and culturally relevant/responsive staffing within programs to support better student and family engagement (and when possible, support the development of biliteracy). 
  • Ensure that  certificated and classified staff receive professional development  focused on building cultural competency, and addresses cultural differences in communication patterns and their impact on EL learning.

Whittier Union High School District: Building Capacity Through Parent Mentor Program. The district’s Road to Success Parent Mentor Program (also called “El Programa de Padres Promotores del Camino al Éxito Univeritario”), provides comprehensive training for parent volunteers to support ELs and other parents in finding online resources, monitoring grades, and strengthening student  social-emotional well-being. Parent mentors are also tasked with  attending District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) workshops, co-facilitating and coordinating parent events, and serving as ambassadors for the program.

Azusa Unified School District: Camp ABC for TK-1st Grade ELs. Camp ABC helps to acclimate the district’s  youngest scholars to the school environment as well as a chance to learn procedural practices that help them navigate school and the classroom successfully.  Students experience open learning centers, carpet time, as well as visits to the library, cafeteria, office, playground, and health room. The district is extending this offering to rising 1st grade students as they did not experience or benefit from a typical first year of school.


Schooling as we knew it in the past cannot be the same for upcoming summer and fall in-person instruction. The inequities that we knew existed prior to the pandemic have been clearly exposed and  exacerbated. Many ELs and their families have not only experienced lost time interacting with friends and teachers and  receiving live instruction, but many family members have experienced trauma associated with loss and isolation.  We need to re-envision an education system that is responsive to the diversity of EL profiles; delivers instruction and curriculum that is language rich, engaging, culturally responsive; and uplifts the languages and social-emotional needs of our students and families.  It is time to use the resources and creativity within our district and schools to ensure that expanded learning opportunities are joyous and filled with the smiling faces of our students as their voices and laughter are synonymous with their learning. 

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