English learners return to class

Fifty English language learners, including some from Diamond Bar High School, were welcomed back to classrooms through the Saturday English Language Learner Academy held at South Pointe Middle School.

Walnut Valley Unified School District put the program together to help English learning students improve their communication and comprehension skills beyond the regular Monday through Friday schedule. The adviser for the program is Walnut High School administrator Marta Dibell.

“It was voluntary. [They] are all English Learners, so they need more practice speaking and writing English,” DBHS English teacher Kemp Wells said via email. “The district reached out to all students that were in that category and asked them if they wanted to participate. Approximately, 50 students volunteered.”


The students are taught grammar lessons through hands-on activities like song games. However, each teacher has a different approach to learning English.

Both teachers and students have to follow strict social distancing regulations on campus. Everyone is required to remain six feet apart from each other at all times. Students and staff perform health checks, including thermometer scanning and questionnaires, every Saturday morning upon entering the campus. Strict masks and cleaning rules also apply.

To eliminate any unnecessary contact with others, each student is assigned one desk with their personal supplies. Those supplies do not leave the classroom, and each desk is separated by plastic shields. 

To ensure class sizes are small enough to accommodate social distancing protocols in the classroom, each teacher is assigned 12 students. There are four classes in total, with plans to add more if English language learning students continue to volunteer. 

Teachers create their own curriculums for these Saturday lessons. Each class takes one ten-minute break, and only one class is on break at a time; therefore, no teaching cohorts can interact with each other. The class runs from 9 a.m. to noon.

“I am not worried about someone or myself becoming sick, we have a great group of students participating,” science teacher Pat Wakefield said via email. “I know that our students thoroughly understand about wearing masks and social distancing. As long as they practice this during the week when we are not in session then we should be fine.”

Wakefield said the only issue with this kind of classroom is having to continually remind students about regulations. Other teachers also expressed concerns regarding teaching under firm safety guidelines.

“The only part that is bothersome is wearing a mask the entire time. Carbon dioxide may be good for plants, but it is harmful to humans,” Wells said. “It also makes understanding speech more difficult. The voice is muffled. Also, a great deal of interpreting spoken words is seeing the mouth move. This is important for English Learners. It is eliminated with “in-person” teaching.”