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Sobrato Family Foundation Invests $29 Million in Literacy Model

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Last week NCG member the Sobrato Family Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary by sharing the news of its $29 million investment in the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) educational model. With a ten-year commitment, the investment will expand the effort to develop the language and literacy skills of all California's English learners. Read the announcement below:


New $29 Million Investment in English Language Learners

Sobrato Family Foundation celebrates 20 years with renewed commitment to California’s children

CUPERTINO, CA – May 18, 2017 – Today the Sobrato Family Foundation announced a new investment of $29 million as part of an additional 10-year commitment to develop the language and literacy skills of California’s English learners. The increased investment aims to promote the academic success of every English learner in California by further expanding the successful Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) educational model in order to advance statewide policies that draw from lessons learned from SEAL classroom practice and research and evaluation of the model. The news comes on the family foundation’s 20th anniversary and signals their continuing commitment to California’s students and to this groundbreaking work.

The Sobrato Family Foundation’s SEAL model is built on the conviction that every child deserves an engaging and intellectually challenging education in supportive and inclusive classrooms to set them up to succeed in school and in life. The foundation sees this as one way to align their resources and values to support all California families and students with a positive educational environment.

“We believe in the promise of California’s students and see our diversity of cultures as a strength to build on. We want to ensure that every student has the tools to succeed,” said Lisa Sobrato Sonsini, President of the Board of Directors of the Sobrato Family Foundation. “In these times, we believe philanthropy plays an important role. As we celebrate our 20th year as a foundation, we wanted to show our strong and continued commitment to the students in our state.”

According to the California Department of Education, nearly one in four children (1.37 million students) in California’s public schools are English learners, and the vast majority of those students are in the primary grades. In November 2016, Proposition 58 passed with 73.5 percent of the vote, reversing restrictions on how schools teach English learners in California and paving the way for a wider range of language programs. Through the continued expansion of the Sobrato Early Academic Language model, and by promoting the development of new bilingual and dual immersion programs, Sobrato aims to support children who do not have access to a quality education that builds upon their language and cultural assets.

Sobrato developed the SEAL model to build the capacity of teachers working with pre-K to third-grade students. The model provides professional development for teachers, supports the development of students’ academic language, and creates opportunities for parents to engage in helping their children learn. SEAL gives students the opportunity to reach age-appropriate literacy in English by the end of third grade, and maintain their home language skills, while becoming more motivated, engaged and confident learners.

An early analysis of the SEAL model showed that, on average, students enrolled in the model caught up with or surpassed peers in language development and academic performance, despite starting school with language and academic skills behind their peers. In addition, the subset of these students who were instructed in a fully bilingual approach showed equal or higher levels of growth and achievement in language, literacy and mathematics compared to other students.

After its initiation in 2008, and following a successful pilot phase in the Silicon Valley, the SEAL model has expanded rapidly. It is now being implemented in 16 districts, reaching 87 schools all over California.

Sonsini notes that this commitment will allow SEAL to bring new school districts on board to expand the reach of the model across California, and she hopes that this will inspire other foundations to consider similar supports for English learner students.

Learn more about the Sobrato Early Academic Language model here.

About the Sobrato Family Foundation

The Sobrato Family Foundation promotes economic opportunity for all by supporting access to excellent schools, providing general operating support to maintain essential safety-net services and building pathways to careers that can sustain individuals and families. Recognizing the link between education and economic mobility, the foundation works to ensure every student in Silicon Valley has access to a high-quality education. Their research-based Sobrato Early Academic Language model, or SEAL, is developing the language and literacy skills of hundreds of local English learners and showing a measurable impact on their academic growth and achievement.

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