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Cambalache provides English learners with voice

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Cambalache provides English learners with voice

Cambalache publisher and managing editor Armando Cervantes-Bastidas (far left), Lathrop High instructor Samantha Danley and ELD students pose with an edition of the monthly Spanish publication. Eac...

Photo contributed/


POSTED May 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

For years, Janet Sanders has shared her classroom with frustration, confusion and anger.

She gets it.

The written word can be difficult to master for even those that speak fluent English. Now imagine that you’ve just moved from a different country with an assortment of different customs, and speak an entirely different language.

School becomes less a journey of enlightenment and more a mystery and struggle.

“The whole process can be challenging,” said Sanders, an English teacher who works closely with Sierra High’s English Language Development students.  “For a student that speaks English as a second language, the difficulties are multiplied.”

Armando Cervantes-Bastidas has been a beacon of hope; an agent of change. Cervantes-Bastidas is the publisher and managing editor of the Cambalache newspaper, and for the last three years he’s given Manteca Unified’s ELD students a rare opportunity.

And a valuable piece of journalism real estate – the back page of his monthly publication.

All five MUSD schools participate in this partnership cultivated by Cervantes-Bastidas and Director of Compensatory Education Fran Roberts, giving ELD students an outlet, a voice and education in journalism, research and the written word.

Each month, Cambalache, a Spanish publication distributed throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, features a school, printing their articles and editorials.

“I’ve always been interested in education,” Cervantes-Bastidas wrote in an e-mail to The Bulletin. “I think that only an educated and informed person with an opinion gets ahead in life. When I decided to create the newspaper, the natural step was to … educate people as much as teachers do with their students.”

Shortly after Cambalache’s maiden publication, Cervantes-Bastidas reached out to the school district with a proposition.

It had been his career-long dream to create a forum, whether on the radio or in print, that afforded him the freedom to broadcast his opinions. His intentions were pure: To “culturalize” the community. The ELD students would supply a teen-aged perspective.

His proposal was met with open arms.

“He was hoping to get students, some from an unrepresented group into an activity and give them some input into journalism while improving their writing skills,” Roberts said. “I thought it was a great idea. I called the ELD teachers and they got very excited.”

Manteca Unified has 464 ELD students at varying levels of the program, according to statistics released in March. Manteca High tops the district with 133 ELD students, while Weston Ranch and Lathrop have 97 and 84, respectively. Both Sierra and East Union have 75.

Those numbers include current students who no longer take ELD classes.

Sanders’ students were the first to be featured, appearing in the November 2010 edition.

She gives full credit to Cervantes-Bastidas, a local man with a global vision. The partnership has opened doors once closed to students with language barriers, Roberts said.

“I don’t think you’d see one of these students ordinarily enter into a journalism class,” she added. “I think it offers that opportunity in a different venue. It’s like having English Learners in Drama. I think there are some electives that kids get shut out of because they’re ELD. This has given them an avenue.”

Cervantes-Bastidas meets with the students two to three times a month to discuss story generation and execution.  Together, they’ll pinpoint a theme and related topics.

In the past topics have included: abortion; economics; harassment; rivalries; and activities on campus. This month, Sanders’ students wrote about migration from their native country to the United States.

Instead of focusing on the politics surrounding immigration, the students opted for a first-person focus, examining their own struggles, surprises and cultural differences.

“Sometimes the type of writing we do in school, they don’t see it as real-life writing,” Sanders said. “When (Cervantes-Bastidas) comes in it’s real-life writing to them. They can write about a novel but there isn’t a personal connection. With this newspaper, there’s a personal connection that really lights a fire.”

She has enjoyed the transformation brought on by Cervantes-Bastidas and Cambalache. Her classroom is still filled with struggle and confusion – those familiar tenants – but there’s an excitement and energy among the ELD crowd, too.

“It’s the best class of the day, because they’re so interested in learning and succeeding,” Sanders said. “They don’t take anything for granted. The binder, the pencil, any kind of supply – all of those things are important to them. A lot of them talk about succeeding for their families; to create a better life for themselves.

“They need this education and they work hard, even though it’s never easy.”

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