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Top 5 new things as Southern California students start school

Fall hasn’t arrived yet, and already more than 6 million children have returned to more than 10,000 schools across California.

As students hit the books and parents start fretting over their kids’ math homework, here are five things to watch for in campuses across Southern California:

Second graders Nyah Brown, left, and Marianna Gonzalez work on a science experiment at Oxford Preparatory Academy in Chino, CA on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Photo by Rachel Luna/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)

1. New ways of teaching history and science

The material is mostly the same, but students will be taught history/social science and science in new ways. The state Board of Education adopted new frameworks, or guidelines, for teaching the two subjects last year. This is the first time the new approach will be implemented as part of the Common Core curriculum.

Under the old system, high school students memorized facts for a U.S. history lesson on the cotton boom in the South before the Civil War. The new method requires them to show deeper understanding of the issue.

Teachers might explain how mechanized cotton farming made production cheaper, causing farmers to abandon other crops and pressure the federal government for more land to use for growing. The goal would be an understanding that the Trail of Tears and other forced internal migrations of Native Americans were motivated by economic expansion and aided by the federal government.

“It gives teachers greater freedom to teach not so much by the book and in a paced order, but more with authentic, first-person accounts, primary source documents and critical thinking,” said Ed Sibby, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association. “Students will benefit because they’re being asked to analyze and apply what they’ve learned.”

Protesters hold a Free Romulo rally outside immigration court in Los Angeles on Monday March 6, 2017 to stop Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez' deportation. Avelica- Gonzalez was detained while taking his children to school. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
Protesters hold a rally outside immigration court in Los Angeles in March to stop Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez’ deportation. Avelica- Gonzalez was detained while taking his children to school. The situation was a factor in Los Angeles Unified School District board members’ decision to pass a resolution affirming schools as “safe zones” for immigrant students and families. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

2. Immigrant ‘Sanctuaries’ or  ‘Safe Zones’

Since Donald Trump was elected president, school districts across the state have made an emphatic statement: We’re in the education business, not the immigration business.

As the school year gets underway, 113 districts and county offices of education collectively enrolling about 2.7 million pupils have declared themselves “sanctuaries” or “safe havens” for students in the country illegally.

Several of the largest school systems in Southern California, including ones serving students in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Riverside and San Bernardino, have passed resolutions limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents.

While resolutions vary by district, in most cases school staff won’t allow immigration agents on campus without a warrant, subpoena or court order. A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling guarantees all students the right to kindergarten through 12th grade education regardless of immigration status.

In addition to resolutions, the American Civil Liberties Union of California urges school districts to adopt policies spelling out clear guidelines if federal immigration authorities arrive on campus and want to speak to students or access their records.

“We think it’s extremely important that kids feel welcome, that they’re supported on campus,” said Hannah Comstock, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

Teacher Robert Riebeth works with students on campus Thursday night at the School of Extended Educational Options, a charter school of the Pomona Unified School District. (Courtesy of Sprint)

3. Charter school boom

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and free of many rules governing traditional public schools, are exploding across Southern California.

The combined number of charter schools in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties grew from 443 in 2015-16 to 461 in 2016-17, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

At least 17 new charters are opening in Los Angeles County in the current school year, including 11 in the Los Angeles Unified. Other charters being launched include Temecula International Academy in Temecula and Unity Middle College High School in Anaheim.

The amount is expected to keep rising, given that charter schools have strong backing from the Trump administration and enjoy majority board member support in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has more charters than any district in the nation.

“If people think it’s going to be denied, they might be dissuaded from starting a school,” said Steven Baratte, a Southern California-based spokesman for the association. “If they think it’s a more positive environment, they might be more willing to try. It might lead to more.”

Digital arts class at North Ridge Elementary School on Monday, June 2, 2014. ORG XMIT: RIV1406021404050461
Students learn at a digital arts class at North Ridge Elementary School in Moreno Valley in 2014. North Ridge is incorporating computer science and coding into all subjects this year.

4. Rise in STEM and STEAM schools

More Inland schools are focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM fields. Others offer the same four subjects but with art thrown in to produce STEAM.

“We’re seeing more and more of them,” said Greg Nicholas, science coordinator for the Riverside County Office of Education.”In most if not all districts, it’s definitely on their radar.”

In the Inland area, North Ridge Elementary School in Moreno Valley started incorporating computer science and coding into all subjects this month. The Hybrid School of Innovation, a mix of online and classroom lessons, opened at John F. Kennedy Middle College High School in Norco. In San Bernardino County, STEM or STEAM themed programs new this year include Truman Middle School in Fontana, Terrace Hills Middle School in Grand Terrace and Moore Middle School in Redlands.

STEM classes require students to use critical thinking, collaboration and communication — skills that are a focus of the state’s Common Core-based standards, Nicholas said.

“STEM is one of those answers to what 21st Century learning is all about,” Nicholas said. “Kids love it. What would you rather do: design and engineer a system or do a worksheet and answer problems out of a book?”

Cristina Sanchez, left, teaches a Spanish class that has some dual immersion students at Roosevelt High School in Eastvale on Tuesday, August 30, 2016. Dual immersion programs that teach kids in English and Spanish have been expanding to Inland high schools to help kids function in an increasingly bilingual society. Corona-Norco Unified is growing from one to two high schools, Riverside Unified is thinking about it, and San Bernardino City Unified has a popular program.
Cristina Sanchez, left, teaches in Spanish in a dual language class at Roosevelt High School in Eastvale in August 2016. Dual immersion programs that teach kids in English and Spanish have been expanding to help kids function in an increasingly bilingual society.

5. Increase in dual language programs

Dual language programs in California that teach students in English and another language, often Spanish, have been increasing for years. The passage of a voter-approved measure in November will accelerate the trend, experts say.

Prop. 58, approved by almost three-quarters of the state’s voters, removed obstacles to setting up dual-language programs.

A June survey of 111 school districts by the English learner advocacy group Californians Together found that 58 percent planned to expand bilingual education opportunities.

Locally, the newly rebuilt Hemet Elementary School this month became the first Hemet Unified School District campus to offer dual language classes. The Riverside Unified School District recently expanded the program to middle school. The Corona-Norco Unified School District and San Bernardino City Unified School District also have it at the high school level.

“There’s definitely a real focus on being able to provide more students with opportunities to become proficient in English and in another language,” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together.

Research shows that students who are fluent in two languages do better in English in school, she said.

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