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We Celebrate Bilingual Children at Boston Public Schools

By Dr. Frances Esparza, Assistant Superintendent of English Language Learners

Each child deserves an education that honors their culture. I speak from experience, as I came very close to losing such an education when I was a child. When my mother attended school, speaking Spanish, or a language other than English was forbidden. She was beaten with a paddle for speaking the same language she spoke while at home and as a result, she spoke less and less Spanish and was not able to pass it on to me and my siblings. Fortunately, being the oldest child, I had a great relationship with my grandfather and learned the language of my family from him. Today, I am the only one of my siblings who speaks Spanish, and I do not want that to be the case for other families.

While October is “Celebrating The Bilingual Child Month,” the Office of English Language Learners (OELL) supports our schools in giving students access to an education while affirming and honoring their culture year-round. The primary function of our office is to identify students with language-learning needs and to ensure that they receive the instruction necessary to achieve proficiency in English. Since teachers are our students’ biggest advocates, we prioritize supporting teachers with strategies on how to teach English learners (ELs) language and literacy through professional development and professional learning. For the first time, Boston Public School is a RETELL vendor, so we can increase the number of core content teachers who are qualified to service ELs.

We see gains through this work every year: in 2014, 5% of our ELs achieved proficiency in English; last school year, we saw that number jump to 9.3%. That’s a difference of 600 students! We look forward to seeing that number grow as we create more dual language schools for different language needs and enhancing curriculum for our ELs. OELL is working collaboratively with UMass Boston, MIT, Boston College, and Bridgewater State University to create curriculum in Haitian Kreyol, Cape Verdean Creole, and Chinese. These initiatives allow us to create equity in different linguistic communities.

In addition to supporting our students and teachers, families are a big part of the work we do. I encourage the parents of ELs to take advantage of our District English Language Advisory Committee (DELAC), which is comprised of parents and community members who make recommendations to school and district officials about programs and services provided to ELs. While we want to make sure the voices of our parents and communities are heard, it is just as important that they hear us. This year, our Translation & Interpretation Unit has built its capacity to provide timely, high-quality translations and interpretations in an effort to give parents information about their child in their native language.

As all educators know, the work never ends! We are always researching how Boston Public Schools can create more equity, coherence, and innovation for our ELs and former ELs, a population that we continuously track and support. While we have made some significant gains for our ELs, their teachers, and their families, there is still plenty of work to do.

If you would like to learn more about our office and services, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at