What the Sobratos Are Doing for Early Literacy in the Bay Area

Considering the large Hispanic population of public school students in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it's no surprise that over 25 percent of new students are English language learners. There’s a clear connection between this population and higher dropout rates—up to eight times the rates in some non-Hispanic Silicon Valley districts.

To target the Pre-K to third grade demographic before it’s too late, the Sobrato Family Foundation developed a program for teachers to address the needs of Spanish-speaking/English-learning students. The Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) is pitched as a replicable model aligned with Common Core Standards. Dr. Laurie Olsen, a national expert in English language learner education, developed SEAL, and a national advisory group threw in its two cents.

Unlike some unsuccessful past programs, SEAL professional development for preschool and elementary school teachers is expansive, including workshop and coaching sessions, planning collaborations, hands-on science workshops, and field trips. It also sponsors artist residents in the classrooms, buys bilingual books for students, and supports parents’ literacy as well. Whew—that’s a lot of moving parts for one local program.

Hoover Elementary School, located in Redwood City, California, recently won the 2014 Golden Bell Award for Implementation of the Common Core for its SEAL program. This is a California School Board Association award that’s been handed out for 35 years. SEAL has expanded to four other schools in the Redwood City School District, making it a part of 30 total schools in five Silicon Valley districts.

“By 2019, our goal is to partner with approximately 50 schools in the region to train nearly 2000 teachers, and impact up to 40,000 students with this effective, powerful model of language learning,” said Rick Williams, Sobrato Family Foundation CEO.

As we wrote earlier this year, Sobrato has been shifting more of its focus to addressing the causes of poverty, as opposed to addressing the symptoms through direct service giving. "Our long term intention is to increase pathways out of poverty for the economically disenfranchised," the foundation says. And one way to help achieve that goal is to ensure that English learners succeed in school. This is a great example of an early intervention that can have huge and lasting effects.

Across the board, the Sobrato Family Foundation is committed to Santa Clara, San Mateo and Southern Alameda counties. Its education grantmaking program aims to increase the number of high-quality classrooms and school leaders to help kids complete high school. Approximately 22 percent of foundation grants have been going toward education lately.

SFF was also one of the first foundations in the area to focus grantmaking on general operating support for critical services, opting for two-year commitments that take inflation into account and have no restrictions on reapplying. Amen to that. 

Related: Read IP’s Profile of the Sobrato Family Foundation

Direct questions about SEAL to Dr. Laurie Olsen at LOlsen@Sobrato.org