Disability, Language and Mothering

This month we published (M)othering Labeled Children by María Cioè-Peña. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

I never sought to study mothers. To be honest, mothers were never really a part of my professional circle. Yes, I worked with women who were mothers and I also engaged with my students’ mothers, but I rarely saw mothers as an asset; truth be told, I probably didn’t really see them at all. I remember many of my former students but very few of their mothers – the ones I do remember often tended to be the “squeaky wheel” mothers – the ones who came across as “irrational” and “demanding”.  As an educator, I didn’t really think about mothers, not the way I do now.

To be clear, I thought about parents. As a special education teacher, I had been trained to communicate with parents, to consider their emotional capacities, particularly around disability diagnosis or program placements, as well as their education level when communicating information and interacting with them. I was taught to be a co-conspirator, always working with parents towards more inclusive placements. As a bilingual educator I was trained to be culturally responsive and to consider parents’ cultural identity and language practices when communicating. All of this was under the guise of compliance and rarely under the umbrella of collaborative partnerships. After all, I had been trained to believe that culturally and linguistically diverse families needed teachers like me to advocate for them.

My relationship with parents in many ways took on similar characteristics to my relationships with children in special education – I was a helper to the helpless, a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for the powerless. Thus, my relationship to parents took on the same deficit framing that plagues emergent bilinguals and students labeled as dis/abled. So it makes perfect sense that parents, especially mothers, were outside of the scope of my inquiries. This is not to say that I did not have beautiful and meaningful relationships with mothers. On the contrary, I credit those relationships with my growth both as an educator and as a researcher, but at the time I did not recognize them as a part of my practice, rather I saw them as another feather on my cap; another thing that I did that made me great.

I was really interested in studying the ways in which my teacher training had failed me. I recognized that my teacher training had been an amalgamation of parts (special education training with a bilingual extension or a bilingual education training with a special education extension) and as such had failed to prepare me, and others like me, for the unique challenges that a bilingual special education teacher might encounter. It wasn’t until I did a pilot study centered on teachers that a participant made a claim that shifted my whole perspective. When speaking about changes that had arisen as a result of special education reforms in NYC, changes that encouraged Emergent Bilinguals Labeled As Disableds’ (EBLAD) placement in monolingual English Inclusive Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms over bilingual self-contained special education settings, she commented that she felt badly for the mothers because they had no say in this transition. The bilingual special education classrooms were closed and students were placed in monolingual ICT classes, and while the children could adjust, the mothers had lost a huge connection to their children’s learning. While in the bilingual special education setting they could encounter a teacher who spoke their home language – that was not true in the monolingual ICT classes.

That comment sat and rattled around my head for weeks and months, until finally I realized that the problem didn’t lie in my training. It originated from the fact that these children were being treated as the sum of their classifications: English language learners, students with disabilities, culturally and linguistically diverse, Latinx, etc. My training was a hodgepodge of programs because the students were being viewed as the sum of their parts rather than as whole. Thus, in order to foreground children as whole, I needed to step out of the classroom and into the home. I needed to center their foremost teacher: their mothers. They are the ones who saw their children as whole first. They are the ones who rooted their children’s differences in a disabilities studies perspective. They are the ones who saw their children’s bilingualism as a linguistic human right central to survival not just capitalism. In order to help EBLADs, I first needed to center mothers’ expertise and experiences.

This book, (M)othering Labeled Children, does just that. It centers mothers, their successes, their struggles (inside and outside of their children’s schooling), their ideologies on disability, language and mothering. In order to see children as whole, we need to see their parents, especially their mothers, as whole first. In doing this work, I have come to better understand myself as a teacher and as a mother. In these women’s testimonios I see my mother, my aunt, and myself. I hope that in reading this book others will see the complexity that is motherhood and the ways in which schools can make this work both easier and significantly more difficult. I hope that this book becomes a step towards a more inclusive school model.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

A History of Bilingual Education in the US

We recently published A History of Bilingual Education in the US by Sarah C.K. Moore. In this post the author briefly summarises the book’s content.

The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) (later Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to promote bilingual-bicultural education programs. Many experts have dissected its systemic undoing – what the author of my new book’s Foreword, Terrence G. Wiley, Arizona State University Emeritus Professor and former President of the Center for Applied Linguistics, has referred to as ‘the sunsetting’ and ‘grand erasure’ of Title VII. An initial goal in my research for this book was to better understand the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’ – it funded postgraduate students seeking Masters and Doctoral level degrees enrolled in universities as part of the BEA. In addition to the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’, myriad other activities once supported bilingual education in the US.

This book offers sociohistorical snapshots and revisits periods during which aid for bilingual programs existed on a national scale. Although perhaps fleetingly, a time did exist when bilingual education in the US was supported by federally administered services. ‘The Network’ of the 1970s and later was comprised of a countrywide system of resource centers serving a combination of regions and language groups, including for materials development, dissemination and assessment activities, and bilingual educator training.

By the 1990s, ‘bilingual’ education connoted a particular political stance – one either in favor of endorsing language as a civil right or against ‘affirmative ethnicity’ (made mainstream by conservative Washington Post columnist, Noel Epstein during the 1980s). We widely accept that the BEA emerged in part from the Civil Rights and Chicanx movements of the same era; it was also politically agreeable, which benefited its marshaling to passage.

Contemporarily, most multilingual education programs are labeled Dual Language Education – an arguably deliberate middle-of-the-road phrasing less ‘politicized’ than the sullied ‘bilingual’ education. Dual Language Education programs are expanding across the country rapidly and the three states targeted by the English-Only Movement (California, Arizona, and Massachusetts) have either overturned or pulled back emphasis on English-priority instructional approaches for Emergent Bilingual students. Notably however, numerous scholars have laid out in striking detail examples of racism, linguistic imperialism and prejudicial ideologies often underlying in characteristics and implementation of these programs.

Given the history of bilingual education programs and supports enabled by the BEA and Title VII, now may be a pivotal time to examine whether these could be re-conceptualized in ways that serve existing and new programs – and also, fundamentally, position language as a civil right – in harmony with the 1968 conception of bilingual-bicultural education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Dual Language Bilingual Education by Kathryn I. Henderson and Deborah K. Palmer.

Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

How To Design, Run and Assess Quality Bilingual Programmes

We recently published Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education edited by Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle. In this post the editors explain what to expect from the book.

We are pleased to reach the final stage of publication of the volume Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education. It’s been more than two years of successful triangulation work with the authors and Multilingual Matters, which have led to the birth of a book that deals with topics surprisingly scantly covered in the literature of bilingual education. The publication of the book will undoubtedly unfold new perspectives on how quality bilingual programmes can be designed, run and assessed.

We have had the privilege of working with a host of experienced, recognized and well-known authors who have paved the way for producing a text with meaningful and grounded content. Emma Dafouz has prefaced the volume, and David Marsh, Wendy Díaz, Víctor Pavón, Patrick Studer, David Lasagabaster, Jennifer Valcke, Karin Bage, Pat Moore, Kyria Finardi, Inmaculada Fortanet, Maria Ellison, Felipe Guimaraes, Javier Ávila, Francisco Rubio and Rocío López have contributed to writing nine excellent chapters that have been strategically devised into two main parts. The first part is devoted to theoretical issues and discussion about language policy and internationalization, and the second to the application for setting up, supervising and evaluating bilingual programmes and classroom practice. We are very grateful to all of them and also to those that have endorsed the publication, namely Magnus Gustafsson, María Luisa Pérez Cañado and Esko Koponen.

The book is valid for all contexts in higher education. While the authors work mainly in Europe (UK, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland) and America (Mexico and Brazil), the contents can be applied to any geographical area. Being keynote speakers, many of the authors participate in international academic events and therefore, the mindset permeating our volume promotes a globalized vision and represents institutions around the world.

It addresses policymakers (especially those chapters related to the analysis of language policies), programmes’ coordinators, researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders (especially those chapters referred to the exposition of tools and analysis of quality indicators).

It is our challenge to make a significant contribution to the field of bilingual education so that we inspire the use and adaptation of innovative tools to raise the quality of each and every one of the myriad of multilingual programmes. In fact, if there is no quality in those programmes after the considerable economic and human effort it entails, what is the purpose of having those programmes at all?

Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt.

At the Crossroads of English-medium Instruction and Translanguaging

We recently published English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Zhongfeng Tian and Jeanette Toth. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

As language educators involved with teacher training, the three of us share an interest in how language use is addressed at all levels of education, but especially in nominally monolingual contexts like English-medium instruction (EMI) programmes. While languages have traditionally been kept separate in teaching and learning, the more fluid view of languages and language use found in translanguaging has gained traction among researchers as well as teachers (e.g., García, 2009; Paulsrud, Rosén, Straszer, & Wedin, 2017; Tian, Aghai, Sayer, & Schissel, 2020). Research in these publications has shown us that the scope of translanguaging is more than a pedagogy that involves alternating languages of input and output in bilingual classrooms. Beyond pedagogical practices, translanguaging offers a transformative ideological shift that both challenges linguistic hierarchies and promotes social justice, offering implications for what may be considered legitimate languages for learning.

When Zhongfeng was working with his PhD research on translanguaging in bilingual education in the US, he realized there was very little published research on translanguaging in EMI programmes. A quick search online led him to BethAnne, who was conducting research on EMI and translanguaging on the other side of the world in Sweden. After months of exchanging ideas for an edited volume to address a gap in the field, they invited Jeanette, with her expertise on EMI in Swedish primary schools, to join them. Our editorial team was in place and the book project was launched!

Our aim with the volume was to bring together a wide range of studies from different contexts and educational levels, and the response was overwhelming. The many interesting contributions revealed the quality of research on EMI and translanguaging taking place across the world. We are especially excited that several underrepresented contexts are included in our volume, with empirical studies from African contexts including Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa; several Asian contexts including Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, and Turkey; and the European higher education context in Italy. In their chapters, the authors have included some of the best examples of translanguaging to be found, illustrating how teachers and students make use of their diverse linguistic repertoires to make meaning and facilitate content learning at the crossroads of English-medium instruction and translanguaging. In addition, the volume offers contributions that question the English-only ideologies often prevalent in EMI programmes, and instead consider how translanguaging may disrupt English hegemony. We know this volume will be of interest to researchers and teachers alike.

Finally, we must say that we are grateful to have been able to work with such an outstanding group of international scholars – although most we have never even met in person. However, our common passion for understanding the complexities of EMI and translanguaging has made them valued collaborators. As for us three editors, BethAnne and Jeanette still hope Zhongfeng (now a PhD) will make it to Sweden one day so we can actually meet in person as well!

Jeanette Toth, Zhongfeng Tian and BethAnne Paulsrud

For more information about this book, please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin.

Is Dual Language Education Fulfilling its Purpose?

We recently published Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu. In this post the editors explain the current issues surrounding dual language education in the US.

Bilingualism is many things to many people. In US schools, some students’ bilingualism is taken as a sign of achievement and an investment in a cosmopolitan future, while other students’ bilingualism is treated as unbridled potential but is more readily seen as a barrier. For example, in an essay titled “How to dismantle elite bilingualism”, Nelson Flores argues that a variety of policy decisions and other factors coalesce to create “classrooms where elite bilinguals are framed as gifted and racialized bilinguals are framed as in need of remediation”. In particular, white students from affluent backgrounds are often celebrated for studying languages like Spanish in school, while bilingual BIPOC students are framed as having “gaps” in their achievement and language abilities.

Both of these ways of seeing students’ bilingualism have contributed to the current boom of dual language programs being offered in elementary and middle schools in the United States. Dual language programs grew by a factor of 10 between 2001 and 2015. Proponents of dual language immersion paint a picture of a classroom environment where everyone wins: students classified as English language learners strengthen their English, and other students get the opportunity to develop proficiency in an additional language, such as Spanish, all while building a multicultural community. This vision of inclusive and progressive education offered by dual language immersion programs is tantalizing. But is it being fulfilled?

The question of whether dual language education is fulfilling its purpose in serving vulnerable populations to the betterment of all is a critical topic. As an example, the city where we live, Washington, D.C., is on the cutting edge of dual language education, with many historic and more recent public and charter schools following a dual-language model. However, schools tend to be overwhelmingly white, leading the Washington Post to ask in 2018, “Are dual-language programs in urban schools a sign of gentrification?” This article highlights the popularity of elite bilingualism and a neoliberal perspective of “language as resource” where bilingual education is a hot commodity for white, middle-class Americans, whose needs and norms then dominate the schools, while racialized bilingual students remain marginalized within the same schools, and they and other racialized children are not able to access the schools and benefit from the programs.

Our new book, Bilingualism for All?, brings together the most recent research on these topics and more, from scholars who use a range of approaches to address educational equity. Their work takes a raciolinguistic perspective to examine the reproduction of racial inequities in classrooms, at the school and community level, and at the level of policy. They examine topics ranging from peer interactions, teaching, parent relationships, and school and district policies. Languages covered include Spanish, Korean, Hebrew, and English; research sites range from California and Utah to New York City and beyond. The book raises new questions, such as bilingual education and equity for disabled students, and engages directly with issues of racism and privilege. With the help of an outstanding group of scholars, our aim is for the book to put its finger on the question of whether dual language education is currently for the betterment of all, or increasingly for a select population that already enjoys many social privileges. It is our hope that the book will resonate not only with scholars, but with educators who may see these themes in their own schools and classrooms, and with future teachers. We believe in bilingual education as a critical support for educational equity and achievement, and in dual language immersion as a powerful and potentially transformative model. However, in order to achieve its potential, dual language education must confront the same structural inequities that permeate our institutions and are at the forefront of national debate.

Amelia Tseng, American University
tseng@american.edu

Nicholas Subtirelu, Georgetown University
Nicholas.Subtirelu@georgetown.edu

For more information about this book please see our website.

The 1963 Coral Way Bilingual Program: Looking to the Past and Moving into the Future

This month we published The Coral Way Bilingual Program by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how the book came together.

Among bilingual educators in the US, the name “Coral Way” is a virtual household word. Whenever scholars think about the start of dual language programs, they accurately cite the Coral Way School and its contributions to the field. Yet few know the real stories, people, and energy that went into opening the country’s first publicly funded dual language program – referred to in 1963 simply as “the bilingual program.” This book changes that.

In 2017, I began to read and revisit the early work by Dr. Richard Ruiz and Bess de Farber at the University of Arizona, who collected archival data and oral histories from former teachers, students, and “Cuban Aides” at Coral Way Elementary. An under-examined archive was housed there, but few in our field knew about it.

Coral Way School in 1963

Next I dug deep into archives that hadn’t yet been examined. I unearthed the sole dissertation on Coral Way students from 1968 by Dr. Mabel Richardson. I examined memos, notes, reports and grant applications archived in New York at the Rockefeller Dimes Archive Center on the Ford Foundation. I collected new oral histories from Coral Way teachers and students who participated in the program between 1961 and 1968. The story of Coral Way came more clearly into focus.

The journey I undertook led me across the US and Europe, to newspapers and obituaries, and to academic journals from the 1960s to today. I was astonished that the voices of our antecedents – our bilingual educator roots – remained virtually absent from current conversations, accomplishments, and challenges in bilingual education.

My goal in writing The Coral Way Bilingual Program was not only to document a legacy but, more importantly, to carry the stories of our past into the present and future. I hope this book is a start to connecting these places in time and to advancing our knowledge on behalf of bilingual and multilingual students and families.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiles of Dual Language Education in the 21st Century edited by M. Beatriz Arias and Molly Fee.

Dual Language Immersion Programs: The Importance of Maintaining Heritage Languages

This month we published Mandarin Chinese Dual Language Immersion Programs by Ko-Yin Sung and Hsiao-Mei Tsai. In this post Ko-Yin explains the motivation behind the book.

The state of Utah, where the research described in this book was conducted, is the most ambitious state in growing dual language immersion programs, and is seen by other states as a model. However, the Utah model receives criticisms such as that it targets primarily Caucasian students for the purpose of world language enrichment, rather than for minority students to maintain their heritage languages. For example, Delavan, Valdez, and Freire (2017) and Freire, Valdez, and Delavan (2016) found that the discourse in the policy documents and promotional materials were geared toward competitiveness in the global economy, which marginalized language minority students and drew attention away from heritage maintenance.

When I learned the researchers’ findings and saw the rapid speed of the state implementing foreign language immersion programs, it worried me. Maintaining one’s ethnic identity through their language and culture is essential to help heritage learners succeed in education and life. As a trained second language acquisition researcher, a former teacher of a Chinese two-way dual language immersion program, and a mother of three young heritage learners, I felt the need to use my professional knowledge and teaching experience to examine the rapidly implemented Chinese dual language programs in Utah. My former student, Hsiao-Mei Tsai, who has been a Chinese dual language teacher in Utah, was also interested in the research topic. Together we explored many aspects of the Utah Chinese programs in the book:

(1) Parents’, teachers’, and administrators’ perspectives toward the Chinese dual language immersion programs in Utah

(2) Teacher-teacher and teacher-parent collaboration

(3) Chinese dual language immersion teachers’ teaching identities

(4) Chinese language learning strategies

(5) Learning Chinese characters through the chunking method

(6) Oral interactions between a teacher and her students

(7) Emergent bilinguals’ daily translanguaging practice

We hope that the publication of this research book, which was conducted in the rarely investigated, but quickly growing foreign language immersion programs, sends an invitational message to all bilingual education researchers to focus their attention and effort toward the research needs of the newly developed programs.

Ko-Yin Sung

References

Delavan, M.G., Valdez, V.E. and Freire, J.A. (2017) Language as whose resource?: When global economics usurp the local equity potentials of dual language education. International Multilingual Research Journal, 11(2), 86-100.

Freire, J.A., Valdez, V.E. and Delavan, M.G. (2016) The (dis) inclusion of Latina/o interests from Utah’s dual language education boom. Journal of Latinos and Education, 16, 1-14.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer.

The National Institute of Education, Sri Lanka

We were recently approached by the Director of Bilingual Education for Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Education, G. H. Asoka, with a request to donate some textbooks to them for use in teacher development courses on bilingual education. In this post the Director tells us a bit about the National Institute of Education and how the books we’ve donated will be used.

Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Education (NIE) is the apex body of developing curriculum of Sri Lankan general education. Its role consists of four tasks: advising the Minister of Education in any succeeded government, teacher development, curriculum development and educational research. The department offers services on bilingual education and foreign languages addressing these four areas.

The books donated by Multilingual Matters will be used in the teacher development courses on bilingual education initiated islandwide and several will be kept in the library of the Institute and for the use of the Department of Foreign Languages and Bilingual Education.

The NIE is a national service with links at international level too. As the Director of Bilingual Education, I am responsible for these four tasks in line with bilingual education in addition to National Curriculum Development in general education.

There are different types of projects run under different educational disciplines. In 2019 the projects being run with regard to bilingual education are as follows:

  1. Action research programme with 40 researchers in 2019 islandwide
  2. Trainer-trainer programme on CLIL
  3. Awareness programmes for different stakeholders such as parents, principals, ISAs, teachers, directors and other stakeholders of education
  4. Five research reports on learning in bilingual education
  5. One research report on pre-service teacher development in bilingual education
  6. School and cluster based bilingual education programme islandwide
  7. Handbook on Sri Lankan CLIL
  8. Teacher Moderator Manual on CLIL
  9. Research conference in the Eastern province on Bilingual Education
  10. National Curriculum Framework on bilingual education
  11. Publishing the research journal
  12. Reviewing articles in international journals

We’re pleased to be contributing to the important work the National Institute of Education does and hope the books we’ve donated will prove useful.

Building Bridges as We Go: Connecting Schools with Multilingual Families

This month we are publishing Connecting School and the Multilingual Home by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how her own experiences provided the inspiration for the book.

I grew up navigating various ethnic and linguistic enclaves north of Boston, Massachusetts, where I was born. My grandparents’ families had emigrated from parts of Italy, and I fondly recall my great uncles and aunts speaking their local language and mixing English and Italian. I imagined what they thought while sitting under the cool shade of the apple trees while younger generations of American kids ran through the yard and played bocci. Family was central to our identity, and our identity was our culture, our history, and our language.

My sense of both family and language permeated every aspect of my own educational experience up through college: what I thought I could do, how I could do it, what I would study, and who I could become. One thing for sure was the message that I received from my family: being successful in school was paramount. I was the first generation to navigate access to college, so I learned the hard way (alone) to unravel the complexities surrounding educational programs, relationships, and even financial aid.

As my career matured from an early start in business into bilingual education, the same lens of access to education illuminated the barriers that other families—children, parents, and caregivers—faced. I could envision the bridges between the school and immigrant, multilingual families but remained dismayed by how infrequently I actually saw them built. What remained obvious to me was how many multilinguals have a similar experience—valuing education without having the knowledge of how to access it fully.

Rural multilingual family working in the horse farming industry, southeast United States

The inspiration for this book stems from my own experiences and 25 years of working with multilingual families in the northeast US, Colorado, and rural north central Florida. I have also had the experiences of working with international rural communities. I find that rural, multilingual families’ strengths go largely unnoticed, and are definitely not tapped into as a resource. Their many languages and literacy practices differ from those assumed by educators, leaving families positioned as disinterested in their child’s education.

The Gómez family is one telling example. A family of five children, I recall the second youngest daughter wanting to participate in a 4 day, overnight field trip to Washington, DC—a very long distance from Florida. This annual 5th grade trip, organized by the school, required students to have cameras (back then, disposable cameras), a suitcase, spending money, and good walking shoes. Although the parents understood the importance of the trip to their daughter, they did not understand the process of completing the extensive field trip paperwork, which was provided in only English, nor the details and items needed for the trip. The father and mother worked overtime and sold personal items in order to pay for some of the trip itself. My students and I fundraised to ensure that the daughter had the shoes, camera, and suitcase needed, and while advocating for one family at a time is important, we need the tools to make more systemic changes in schools on behalf of multilingual families.

Our job is to build relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2002) with families, and as Michal Domínguez (2017) notes, hacer puentes al andar – building bridges as we go.  That is the spirit of this book, which is filled with concrete ways to support reflection, action, and to humanize our work as educators by connecting schools with multilingual families.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Narratives of Adult English Learners and Teachers by Clarena Larrotta.