Embracing Bilingualism in the Classroom: What Role Will You Play?

The article beings with a quick anecdote about the author, Daniella Suarez and her recollections from her first day of 5th grade as a new student at a Florida Public elementary school.  Her story is one rooted in profiling based on language, name, and race. Something that has occurred in the past and continues to happen today, due to the political climate of people who wish to silence those who speak another language, according to Suarez. Her story begins on the first day of her new school; Suarez tells that although she had tested into gifted classes, was fluent in both English and Spanish, and was scoring in the 99th percentile on state assessments, she was still singled out and taken to an English-as-a-second-language class.  She recalls that back then this didn’t make sense to her and that she began to doubt herself even more because of it.

Suarez argues that as a nation we have a troubled history dealing with bilingualism even though the United States often labels its self a “nation of immigrants” and this is due enlarge because of politics. She then states that people from the United States tend to forget that many of those “immigrants” did not cross U.S. boarders, but instead that the U.S. boarders crossed them.  An example of this written by Patricia Gandara and Kathy Escamilla states that by the 19th century, the United States had annexed land from Mexico and sovereign indigenous nations. During this time indigenous languages received no support in bilingual education such as languages like German, French, and Spanish which did, and therefore were forced to give up their lands, culture, and language. However, after World War I the United States embraced “Americanization,” and English-only education became law for many states thus getting rid of the German, French, and Spanish language in schools. Due to this Spanish-speaking students along the Mexican-American boarder became subject to segregation and were taught only in English which causes school completion rates to drop tremendously for those students.

Then in 1959, the Cuban Revolution resulted in a mass migration from Cubans to Miami according to Suarez and because they were wealthier and more educated then Mexican counterparts, they were able to demand a more powerful bilingual education system by establishing businesses and electing Cubans into public offices. This gave way to the Coral Way School which later became a nationwide model for bilingual education. Suarez notes that although Cubans in the 90’s were advancing, Haitian and Nicaraguan students were not, and this was most likely because these groups were largely undocumented. She argues that because English-learners still face similar political and cultural barriers as educators it is important to be careful not to reinforce rhetoric that stigmatizes immigrants and promotes an English-only culture.

Nowadays federal regulations have pushed states to create formal structures for students to enter and exit ELL programs, as well as allow for more flexible testing. However, because of things like high-states testing many schools have opted out of exploring bilingual models and often only promote English education. Today, things are changing according to Suarez and bilingual programs are here to stay due to the benefits they provide for english-learners. They provide a safe space for learning, allow children to experience academic success in their home language, and invite families to take part in their child’s education. This is also helpful for English speakers because it gives them opportunity to practice empathy and experience greater inclusivity. Suarez urges educators of their responsibility in defending and promoting bilingualism in their classrooms, school sites, and districts. She challenges educators to check their biases as students learn a new language because many of these students are also learning a new culture and education system, and these students should be met half way. Finally, she says that the feeling of being singled out has never left her, and therefore educators should be aware of what all of their students experience in and outside of school so that all students can feel safe and can be capable of authentic self-expression at school.






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