Envisioning the future we aspire to build for California’s young children has been one of my favorite parts of planning for Early Edge’s new direction, and at a recent stop on our listening tour, about 100 people convened to discuss the face of California’s future: young dual language learner children.
Input from the listening forum held at First 5 Fresno County, expert researchers, and Early Edge’s advisory committee helped us shape one of the north stars of our work going forward: aspiring towards a future when all California children are bilingual and biliterate by the end of 3rd grade.
As we plan for a better future, we are also well aware of the current atmosphere of fear and uncertainty created by proposed federal policy changes. So right now, we are providing as much information as possible about how early learning programs can protect and advocate for the educational rights of young children in immigrant families.
On the road for our listening tour, we captured insights from research, policy, and practice experts about the importance of supporting dual language learner (DLL) children and the critical work ahead.
What the Experts Say
California policymakers are standing up for immigrants’ rights, early childhood education, and many other important issues. With the largest concentration of dual language learner (DLL) children in the nation, its values of diversity — including linguistic diversity — and its role as a bellwether for other states, California has the opportunity to emerge as a leader on DLL issues, says Miriam Calderon, Senior Director of Early Learning at the Bainum Family Foundation.
A major, new national report, Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English: Promising Futures, released February 28, underscores that the PreK-12 educator workforce is inadequately prepared to support DLLs and makes 10 recommendations for policymakers to promote school success for DLLs — several of which focus on early childhood and supporting teachers and caregivers.
Many of the themes in the report were reflected at the Fresno forum, held in partnership with First 5 Fresno County and made possible with the generous support of the Heising-Simons Foundation.
Dr. Linda Espinosa, University of Missouri Emeritus Professor, and a member of the committee that released the Promising Futures report, noted that babies are “linguistic geniuses,” primed to learn languages from birth.
For Evangelina Reynoso-Moore of Central Valley Children’s Services Network and the Starting Smart and Strong Initiative Fresno Language Project, a highlight of working with early childhood educators in Fresno has been the starting point that speaking two or more languages is a gift — not a problem to be dealt with in the classroom.
In policy and advocacy, a top priority is addressing the lack of bilingual educators by strengthening and supporting preparation and training and ongoing professional development. This is particularly urgent in light of the coming implementation of Proposition 58, which repealed most of an earlier initiative designed to prohibit non-English languages from being used in public schools, says California State University of Los Angeles Professor Emeritus Marlene Zepeda.
Our Work Ahead to Support Dual Language Learners
As part of its new direction, Early Edge will advocate for policies to improve the capacity of California’s early childhood workforce to deliver high-quality instruction to support dual language development. We know that supporting multilingualism and ensuring appropriate instructional support for DLLs requires policy change, increased investments, and public recognition of the value and benefit of bilingualism.
We look forward to partnering with state advocacy organizations who have led the way, including Californians Together, the California Association for Bilingual Education, and the Advancement Project. Our policy and advocacy will also be informed by on-the-ground work in local communities, such as the Fresno Language Project, and the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) Project, which was recently featured in a U.S. Department of Education report featuring case studies of schools aligning and differentiating instruction spanning preschool to 3rd grade.
We thank the many stakeholders who have participated in our planning process, and look forward to working with you now to protect the diversity that makes California great, and toward a better future for our diverse young learners and the teachers and caregivers who support them.