An El Cajon charter school – Excellence and Justice in Education Academies – a Spanish language immersion program has started construction of a $20 million middle school.
Paid for by state grants and loans, the project will replace classrooms that were outdated, run-down and crowded, said Eva Pacheco, who founded the school in 2005.
“It has been a challenge because it’s a very old facility,” Pacheco said, adding that the new school at 851 S. Johnson St. will be “the door to an entirely new world of possibilities.”
“Our students and families are resilient and they continue to achieve despite not having equitable access to the technologically modern facilities that they deserve,” Pacheco said. “When it rains, the students are always worried because we don’t have enough buckets to catch the rain.”
The 38,000-square-foot, two-story new school will have 21 classrooms including an acoustically designed music room with an advanced sound system, a multimedia and journalism classroom, a science classroom, physical education space with locker rooms and a 1,300-square-foot STEAM (Science, Technology and Math) maker space.
The maker space will double as a college and career alumni center after school hours.
The collaborative maker space will include an outdoor workshop for special projects and demonstrations.
Outdoor amenities will include athletic fields and an organic student garden.
Working on the project are Cannon Design, Ruhnau Clarke Architects and Barnhart-Reese Construction.
“This is the beginning of a new path to better futures through equity in education for thousands of current and future EJEA families,” said Executive Director Janet Vasquez.
With an enrollment of about 800 students, the school is centered on a dual language immersion program in Spanish and English from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.
At the kindergarten level, students receive 90% of their instruction in Spanish and 10% in English.
The ratio gradually shifts as students move up in grades to have more of the instruction in English, finally reaching a ratio of 90% English to 10% Spanish, Pacheco said.
By the time students graduate, they are fully fluent in Spanish and English.
“It not necessarily speaking the languages, it’s reading, writing and speaking both languages,” Pacheco said. “It’s important to have a dual language school for all cultures, to embrace all cultures.”
Pacheco said that 92% of the school’s students come from low-income families and about 90% of them are Latino.
The school has more than 400 students on a waiting list, according to Pacheco.
“Unfortunately for low-income students and bilingual students, the educational system is not offering what they need,” Pacheco said.
Excellence and Justice Education Academies was formed in 2004 by a parents’ group that was angered over the planned closing by the Cajon Valley Union School District of John Ballantyne Elementary School in El Cajon. The group opened a charter elementary school in 2005, adding middle school classes four years later.
“When the district decided to close the school, we saw this as an opportunity to open a charter school,” Pacheco said. “We started with six portables and 110 students.”
Besides building the new school, Pacheco said that EJEA plans to remodel the existing classrooms, with the help of an additional $10 million in state money plus $10 million it hopes to raise from other sources.
“Right now, we have a capital fundraising, hopefully to raise the other $10 million to cover all (the cost) of the dream school we design for the students,” Pacheco said.
Excellence and Justice in Education Academies
Founder: Eva Pacheco
Headquarters: El Cajon
Business: Charter school
Notable: Excellence and Justice in Education Academies is a dual language immersion Spanish/English school serving primarily low-income families.