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Cuyamaca College

Cuyamaca College

Program Overview

Cuyamaca College is a community college in San Diego County. Their ESL program serves over 600-700 students from 5 countries. In 2014, Guillermo Colls created an accelerated pathway to pilot. The new program was so successful, that it has become the only pathway offered.

Accelerated Program Design

Cuyamaca’s new Accelerated Boost program is designed to take what had historically been a seven-level pathway and reduce it to only three for the students who are ready to move faster while still supporting students who need more time and preparation. They’ve done this by creating new accelerated courses that not only change the design of the program but what happens inside the classroom as well.

Cuyamaca’s new ESL program has three levels, with an A and a B section for the top two levels. The B section is for students who receive a C in the A section, indicating that they need more practice at a given level. The students who receive an A or B advance to the next level. Both the A and the B sections of a level are stacked, meaning they occur in the same room at the same time. The idea is that the expectations are the same, it’s just that some people need more time to practice skills at those levels.


It’s important to note that the theme taught at each level changes from fall to spring, so a student who repeats a level won’t actually be repeating the same exact content.

Cuyamaca Program Design

Classroom Pedagogy

Each accelerated class at Cuyamaca college is based on a central guiding theme and inquiry question. Throughout the semester, students acquire language as they read about, talk about, and write about that theme. During a typical class period, students are engaged to work together to complete tasks and solve problems.

The pedagogical shifts at Cuyamaca are outlined in the table below.

Example Themes

Three Levels Below Transfer

Theme: Immigrant Issues

Guiding Question: What are the differences and commonalities of immigrants to the United States?

Book: Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani

Two Levels Below Transfer

Theme: Migrant Worker Conditions

Guiding Question: What are problems/solutions faced by migrant worker families?

Book: The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez

One Level Below Transfer

Theme: Personal Growth/Psychology

Guiding Question: How can we change the things about ourselves we wish to improve?

Book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Placement Policies

Cuyamaca is currently piloting a survey of English use to eventually be used for guiding placement. They have also begun to use self-reported transcript grades using a decision tree based on MMAP research, and they have instituted a new Guided Self-Placement utilizing writing samples from former students as a basis for incoming students to select the level they are most comfortable in.

Student Success Results

Although the program is relatively new, initial results show very promising data. The following graphs were taken from a presentation by Cuyamaca faculty and show how students in the Boost program are more successful than students in the traditional pathways.

Student achievement
Success Data

Questions and Answers


What level are students at when they enter the sequence?


The third level below transfer is designed for false beginners. They can communicate at a basic level.


What happens when you have true beginners show up to your program.


We refer them to the local adult school. 


Was it hard to get the English department to let your ESL sequence go right up to transfer level?


Yes. It took a lot of bargaining. However, English just approved an open-entry transfer level course with support, so that pathway makes it easy to allow the ESL A students to skip directly to transfer level.


How do you support grammar development?


As you can see above, each level has its own grammar course that students take. This grammar course is not a traditional type grammar course. Instead, it’s a corequisite that is tied to the core course. Students tackle grammar topics relevant to what they’ll need to be successful in the core course all within the context of the readings and theme being discussed in the core course. For example, to practice tenses, we might ask students to work together to write a sentence about what happened last in the story, a sentence about what’s happening right now in the story, and a sentence about what they think will happen next in the story. They learn the grammar because they need it in order to talk about the story, and everything we do in the grammar class helps expand their understanding of course texts for the core course. Nothing is decontextualized.


What training do you provide to part-time faculty to help them adjust to this new type of teaching?


We hold a training boot camp every summer to provide our part-time faculty with training about accelerated pedagogy. Faculty can earn a stipend for attending the training, and we pay for it out of a Basic Skills Student Outcomes and Transformation Grant. We also have a private Facebook page where faculty can share ideas and things happening in their classes throughout the semester, as well as a public page where students in these classes can also share ideas with each other.


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