How to Support Bilingual Literacy at School?

Families and communities should advocate for bilingual education as a source of personal and social empowerment.

For those families living within communities where a different language than the one being spoken at home is prevalent, the power to enrich the lives of our children with the mother tongue provides a valuable addition to the diversity of the schools and community as a whole.

A new bilingual mindset opens the following opportunities:

Parents as Teacher Aids:

• An opportunity for mom and dad to participate in the education of their child and support the family's cultural heritage and diversity.
• An opportunity for that parent to learn and strengthen her or his own language and communication skills.
• An opportunity for that parent to add value to the community.

Schools as Community Enhancers:

• An opportunity to host a variety of cultural activities.
• An opportunity to connect to other members of the community and gain from the value they bring.
• An opportunity to strengthen the diversity of the school staff and cultural awareness of its faculty.
• An opportunity to provide communities with a variety of programs that support the transition to a new environment and a new language.

What's needed?

Schools must approach parents and develop mutually beneficial connections with them. To accomplish this task, schools should rely on its own bilingual staff, and look online and offline for services that provide advisory support and free resources to these experienced teachers on how to handle situations particular to immigrant families from South and Central America.

What are some of the major hurdles?

• Parents lacking the language skills and their own cultural and social insecurities.
• Resistance to change from parents and teachers alike. Based on the mistaken belief that what's currently been done is actually working.
• School budgeting and prioritizing which doesn't necessarily include the right investments in favor of greater resources to Hispanic students' academic success.

What are the main goals to target?

• Language skills development. Becoming fully bilingual.
• Living cultures. Developing cultural awareness and conscious participation in the acculturation process; a new physical and social environment.
• Mentors and advisers that speak your language and share your experience. Understanding there's a path to follow; listening and sharing success stories.

The type of social engagement and open conversation between school, teachers and parents is essential for the present and future success of our Hispanic children and their families, and that should be enough to consider possible proactive solutions.

How are you addressing the issue of bilingual education in your classroom?

I highly recommend educators to find free resources and guidance to engage Hispanic children and their families. I encourage all educators and professionals working in an educational setting to be proactive and engage children in both English and Spanish. Bilingualism is an asset and a great way to offer scaffolding support to students, as well as a wider range of reading and writing materials and opportunities to express their identity and their heritage, while informing and expanding the knowledge of their fellow students. By Gabriela Gotay

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