Commentary from LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez: With our investment in dual language programs, ‘Our diversity is our strength’
Kelly Gonez | November 7, 2018
I was entering elementary school when the Spanish spoken in my home slowly disappeared. Up to that point, my mother, an immigrant from Peru, had taught me both Spanish and English at home. But soon after I began school, the only times Spanish was spoken was during overheard calls with my family members in Peru or at family gatherings. I quickly began to lose the tools to communicate fully with my relatives.
My mother focused on speaking English only because she wanted the best for me. She arrived to the U.S. in the early 1980s. At the time, she faced hostility for speaking Spanish in public, and speaking accented English made it difficult to find a career in her desired field, health. As an immigrant, she faced barriers that she wanted to spare me from. All the signs in our society seemed to point toward devaluing our home language and culture. As a result, my mom believed that speaking Spanish predominantly at home would hinder my English language development and my learning abilities in school.
Today, we know better. We know that being bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural are incredible assets for children. And now, as I raise my infant son, we are intentionally striving for him to learn Spanish and feel pride in our culture and heritage, while also learning English.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves more than 100,000 students learning English as a second language and where more than 92 languages are spoken, deeply values the linguistic and cultural assets of our students and families.
That’s why we have invested in creating dual language immersion programs throughout the District — programs where we build on these intrinsic assets for the benefit of our English learner students as well as their English-only peers. These programs provide core content instruction in English and in another language, whether it’s Spanish, Armenian, Mandarin, Korean, Arabic or French.
We’re in the final week to apply for these great dual language programs. And, thanks to continued work to expand access, there’s likely a great choice near you!
When I ran for school board to represent the East San Fernando Valley, one top priority was to ensure that the students and families in my community had access to all educational options provided by LAUSD as our more affluent peers elsewhere in the city.
Despite the multilingual nature of our community, we lag behind other parts of Los Angeles in dual language programs. When I was elected, the East Valley had fewer than half as many programs in Central, West and East Los Angeles. Since then, we have doubled the number of dual language programs in the East San Fernando Valley, and more are planned for future years.
Why are these programs so important? A vast body of research shows how that they are incredibly beneficial for our children. Students who are fluently bilingual achieve better cognitive, academic, and economic outcomes than their monolingual peers. They also find that embracing their home language and culture is deeply affirming as it recognizes a core part of their identity.
Yet, unfortunately not every family is taking advantage of these options. Too often, we hear from our immigrant parents who worry that a dual language program will stymie their child’s learning and English development. And the very families who could benefit most from these programs are sometimes choosing not to enroll.
The reality is that dual language programs are good for all kids, both English speakers who want to develop a new language and those who are learning English in addition to their home language. Students in our dual language programs demonstrate better academic outcomes, including our English learners, who face some of the largest opportunity and achievement gaps of any student group served by our schools.
And, in an increasingly interconnected global world, the skills of bilingualism and biliteracy are ever more important.
Because our dual language programs are such a priority, I was proud to host Superintendent Michelle King and my fellow school board members at Mountain View Elementary School on the first day of school in 2017. Mountain View boasts the first dual language Armenian program in LAUSD.
We visited incredible kindergarteners who were speaking and singing fluently in both languages and being supported by amazing educators who connected with our students culturally, linguistically, and socio-emotionally. They showed the joy that comes with embracing our diverse cultures and learning across languages.
Every school should provide this opportunity in which our students and families can embrace every part of their identity while learning new things. It’s an opportunity that I wish had been possible when I was a child. Thankfully, it’s one that’s possible now for our students and my son, thanks to our school district where we know that our diversity is truly our strength.
You can find out more about dual language programs and apply by Nov. 9 at https://apply.lausd.net/.
Kelly Gonez is the Los Angeles Unified school board member representing Board District 6.