Head Start students in El Monte, California.
Head Start students in El Monte, California.
The California Department of Education will soon announce the winners of a series of grants to local educational institutions, including schools, school districts, provincial education offices, and charter schools that are expanding or establishing bilingual immersion programs.
As these programs grow in popularity, education leaders, teacher educators, communities, and advocates in California and nationally must ensure that English students are prioritized and adequately served through these programs.
But we still have a lot of work to do to get there because:
- Teachers often lack the training and background to effectively identify and address inequalities between groups of students.
- Many families who would benefit most from these programs do not have access to them because of misconceptions rooted in past experiences.
The good news is that these challenges can be overcome with professional learning and support for bilingual teachers combined with family partnerships and involvement.
Teachers have a major influence on creating inclusive bilingual classrooms, so it is critical that they understand how their own beliefs and practices affect their students. All too often, educators lack the professional support, resources, and structures to be as effective as possible. Learning how to recognize the dominant beliefs about their students of English will help them better identify the harmful schools of thought that we are all deeply immersed in and that are still alive today. Bilingual teachers need “ideological clarity” – a concept by researchers Cristina Alfaro and Lilia Bartolomé – to bring to light the deficit-based perspectives of English students and help them teach in a culturally responsive way that enables all students to thrive.
Through research-based professional learning opportunities, bilingual teachers can participate in a variety of activities that help them connect their own experiences with those of their students and put themselves in the shoes of their English students. In one activity using SEAL, we ask teachers to write their own stories, or bilingual autobiographies, that articulate the connection between their language and their personas in the classroom. Then they dive into discussions about English dominance and share stories about individuals who have experienced language loss. Through these activities, teachers explore the relationship between language and power. The strength of this process is that it is not “one-off”, but rather continuous and collaborative, with educators interacting regularly with peers on these topics and reporting back to the group with insights and lessons.
Strong partnerships between schools and families of English learners are not common enough, but they are critical to creating equitable bilingual programs and school systems for English learners.
Families of English learners play a vital role in preventing the loss of their home language and supporting students to become literate in both English and that home language. The schools we work with find ongoing and creative ways to extend bilingual learning experiences into the family, community and home, and to welcome their history and culture into the classroom throughout the school year.
Research shows that many families affected by a long history of racist education policies, such as Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education in California for 20 years, may fear that placing their child in a bilingual classroom could affect their child’s English development. and their access to quality training. This can lead to families with English learners foregoing bilingual education programs, despite the space to accommodate them. In addition, some families of English learners have expressed concern that if their children attend a bilingual program, their English development will suffer.
Changing these perceptions starts with sharing the facts with parents. For example, we partnered with the California Association for Bilingual Education to offer bilingual workshops to predominately Hispanic parents at their annual conference, where we present families research on the benefits of speaking two languages and educate families about various bilingual programs and their effectiveness. In addition, the workshops provide families with tools and resources to stand up for their children and build support for these programs within their communities. This is something schools and school districts can and should do.
We are extremely proud to see bilingual programs focused on equities in California growing after a nearly 20-year ban. We know it’s possible and stand ready to work with schools, communities and the California Department of Education to keep the focus on equality in bilingual education.
Anya Hurwitz is the Executive Director of SEAL, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to centralizing the needs of dual language learners.
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