French child whose English is not proficient - 1st or 2nd grade?


We are new to the Bay Area but are a West Coast family relocating from Paris, France.

My children have been in the French school system the past 3 years. My 7 year old is bilingual and reads well in French. Reading in English has been more of a challenge. So this summer, we sent her to live with her grandparents in Seattle while we packed everything up. She's been receiving extensive professional tutoring in English reading there. After 6 weeks, we have to make a decision to enroll her in 2nd grade (which would be normal for her 2010 YOB), or 1st to catch-her up. The tutor feels that by current US standards she is reading at a late kindergarten level.

She's strong in other areas like math (here in France anyway). What advice would you Bay Area parents give us as we make this decision. Is there a lot of support in Belmont schools for students with our particular language situation?

Thanks so much in advance!

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Any public school should have a program for English learners, though it is more comprehensive at some schools than others. One thing I would be cognizant of is that math for second graders in California is quite dependent on word problems and reading, so her reading level may affect other subject areas as well. The fact that she reads well in her native language suggests that reading itself is not a problem, though, so she should catch up in English with added support. I'd talk directly with the principal of her new school to gauge which grade is the best fit for her (and hopefully they can move her if you choose one and the other seems better after a few weeks). Also be aware that the age cutoff in California is now September 1st, so there are many 2010-born kids who will turn seven this fall in first grade, plus some who turned seven in July or August who will also be in first grade because their parents waited to start them. Depending on when she turned seven, she may not be the oldest by much (or at all) if you do opt to do first grade. Welcome!

I would go ahead and put her in 2nd grade. All children come to school with different levels of abilities, and the teachers are good at accommodating this. In both school districts I've been in (not Belmont, but still in the Bay Area), reading instruction is highly differentiated. She will catch up on her reading; you don't want her to not be challenged in other areas because she's repeating first grade. I think that schools in the Bay Area are very used to English language learners as well. Good luck!

40% of California public school students do not speak English at home and many have some need of English language development. The school districts and the State of California are ready for this. Your children should enroll based in grades based on their age.

Here is the state document on English-learner students:

Here is are the educational services contacts for Belmont in case you want to check in with them:

If kiddo is a good reader in French, I'd enroll in 2nd.  If reading was a challenge in French, I'd consider 1st... but if kiddo is doing great in all other subjects, there's likely to be boredom.


I reviewed your post and while this may not be an option for you, you could consider a French-American school for this year, where she could get support in English while taking advantage of her strengths in French. My children went to the Ecole Bilingue in Berkeley and we have seen many children coming from France who were able to get in at the regular French grade level and got special support in English to catch up. What I have observed is that by the following year, they are very comfortable in both languages.  good luck

I am also part of a French/American family, and a teacher. I would recommend enrolling your child in the grade that is appropriate to her age for several reasons. Since your child is already reading well in French, these skills will transfer as she gains more fluency in English. California, and the Bay Area in particular, has a large population of English Learners and teachers are experienced in differentiating instruction and supporting these students. Also, your school should have some type of support in place for English Language Learners. I would ask the principal about what resources are available and what your child may qualify for. Also, since you mention that you child is strong in other academic areas, she would likely be bored by content in lower grades. There is also the social aspect of wanting her to be with peers. Depending on your child's birthday, she may end up being much older than some of her classmates if you decide to retain her. From what I understand, compared with France, we are much less likely to have students repeat or skip grades. Overall, the trend in thinking is that it is more beneficial for the child to be with their peer group. Best of luck, and welcome to the Bay Area!