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Before a crowd of cheering parents and proud family, roughly 75 English learners from Taylor Elementary were recognized for attaining proficiency during a special Tuesday evening reclassification ceremony. 

A first-time event for the school, Tuesday's ceremony recognized the students who have, since the beginning of the year, reached a level of English mastery equivalent to that of a native speaker. 

"This is an amazing achievement for all of these students," said Erin Reaves, the Taylor teacher that coordinates the school's English language development program. "Today, we recognize them for all their hard work throughout their years in school, learning English as a second language."

At Taylor Elementary, English learners receive 30 minutes of focused English Language Development (ELD) coursework per day. Some students, particularly new English learners, get additional instructional minutes to supplement their daily lessons. This year, Reaves said some students received a free subscription to the Rosetta Stone language development software, along with a Chromebook and wireless internet hot spot to take home.

To qualify for reclassification, students must meet state and district standards during an annual assessment of English language skills and development. Those who reach a level of proficiency typically exhibited by fluent speakers are "reclassified," and no-longer required to enroll in ELD courses.

According to data reported to the California Department of Education, roughly 58 percent of Santa Maria-Bonita students (approximately 10,000 children in kindergarten through sixth grade) are considered English learners. Last school year, almost 1,500 students — or 15 percent of all English learners — were reclassified as English proficient.

"They're going to be able to keep up with their native-English speaking classmates," Reaves said, explaining the significance of the new designation. "Now that they have shown that they're proficient in listening, speaking, reading and writing, they will be able to understand concepts on a higher level [since] they won't be trying to stop and figure out the language."

In addition to now being bilingual or tri-lingual, reclassified students will have additional opportunities to enroll in elective and college prep courses at the junior high and high school level.

"I tried to work hard so I could get better classes in junior high," said sixth grader Felipe Andrade-Gomez, one of the 75 students recognized at the ceremony.

With neither of his parents fluent in English, Andrade-Gomez said learning the new vocabulary could be challenging at times. But with Reaves' help and the support of his friends, he was able to achieve the new designation.

"I've been in these classes for a long time," he said. "I'm excited that I get to take more science classes, because I'm more into that."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.