Serving and Advocating for Multilingual Learners

April is National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month! Established by Congress in 2016 with the support of the National Association of Bilingual Educators (NABE) the month is an important opportunity to advocate for services for the nation’s fast-growing group of students.

children playing with sand and teacherIn Santa Cruz County, there are over 18,000 students whose families speak a language other than or in addition to English. This represents 45% of our student population, slightly more than the state average. Over forty-seven languages are spoken, with Spanish being the main language. Other languages include Tagalog, Somali, Polish, Mandarin and Arabic. Mixtec, an indigenous language from Oaxaca, Mexico is spoken by over 2 percent of the families.

The Santa Cruz COE recognizes bilingualism and multilingualism as assets for students, families and our community and promotes educational programs that respect and celebrate students’ home languages and cultures.

Support for bilingual students and families begins at the earliest years with the COE’s Child Development Resource Center, the Migrant Head Start program and the Early Start Program.

Migrant Head Start provides child care to 175 children of our local farm workers during the harvest season. This national program emphasizes language and literacy development in order to better prepare children for Kindergarten. Most of the parents that harvest our local crops speak Spanish and a growing number speak Mixtec. The Migrant Head Start staff has developed age-appropriate strategies and resources to assist the family child care providers to gently and playfully introduce English (materials are on the COE website). Their latest strategy is to recruit community volunteers to visit the family childcare homes in order to play and talk—only in English—with our preschoolers. These enthusiastic volunteers are popular with both children and providers alike.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education Early Start program provides services to families of infants and toddlers who have or are at risk of having a disability. The bilingual staff works with families to learn how to help their child’s development through everyday activities. Parents join in singing traditional Spanish songs such as “Pimpon” or “Los pollitos” with their children to help with language skills or play with masa (dough) to build hand strength and imagination. The Early Start staff may also accompany families to their young children’s doctor’s appointment so that the whole team is clear about concerns, diagnoses and services available. The Early Start staff assists in a seamless transition to preschool programs when the children graduate at age three.

During the school years, the COE has a strong focus on supporting districts in meeting the needs of multilingual and bilingual students. In addition to having a full-time English Learner Coordinator in the department of Curriculum and Instruction who provides professional learning to teachers and consults with district and school administrators on designing programs and services for bilingual learners, the COE sponsors a variety of events that highlight the advantages of multilingualism and multiculturalism in today’s global society.

The COE’s newest student recognition program, Language Ambassadors, encourages elementary and middle school students to learn languages other than English, by offering recognition to students who complete a variety of activities during the year.

The Young Writers Program collaborates with online museum Museo Eduardo Carrillo to provide students with high-end artwork created by California Latinx artists that students use as the inspiration to write personal narratives. Student writing and artwork are subsequently published in hardbound, full color books and offered available to the public for purchase at local bookstores. Students work with trained writing mentors to craft and revise their writing which is published in both Spanish and English. Additional Young Writers Program projects featuring multilingual writing publications take place at Branciforte Middle School where an annual Cornerstone Project features the writing of students on Home, Heart, and Happiness.

The COE provides financial support to the annual Latino Role Models Conference, which is organized by a local community organization, Senderos program and Santa Cruz City Schools. The annual event invites Latinx youth and their families to explore college and career options.

The COE is committed to working with local community arts organizations and artists to bring multicultural arts offerings to our schools. We work with Tandy Beal & Co. who brings the ArtSmart Dance Around the World program to many schools. This program supports students in learning about different countries, languages, and customs. In their final performance, students have the opportunity to share the stage with dancers from around the world. Tandy Beal & Co. also brings World Music and Dance to our students through a series of family concerts. We support the El Sistema multilingual and multicultural music program in our after-school programs. The COE brings the UNESCO-sponsored International Jazz Week. Finally we support the Museum of Art and History to bring multilingual and multicultural arts experiences to our students.

As part of its Strategic Plan Focus Area Five (Create a model work environment by developing and supporting highly competent educational professionals.), the COE supports the development of bilingualism in its own staff by offering a stipend to bilingual classified employees and professional growth credit for learning a second language. Having school staff that can communicate with parents in their home language is a valuable resource for strengthening parent engagement.

In celebration of April as National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, Santa Cruz COE will be hosting, along with Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey Counties, a Regional Showcase of exemplary programs in four theme areas: All local high school districts as well as two charter schools will be recognized for their leadership in establishing Seal of Biliteracy Programs for graduating seniors. In addition, dual language programs at DeLaveaga Elementary School and at Starlight Elementary will be highlighted. The Pajaro Valley Unified’s Parent Education program, Santa Cruz City Schools’ Latino Role Models Conference and Live Oak School District’s Instructional Coaching program have also been selected to share their success stories with regional educators.