Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

Be an advocate of your child

Posted by bububooks on May 29, 2009

A few weeks ago, I heard Dr. Pauline Clardy, coordinator of the Bilingual/Bicultural Program at Illinois State University, speak about bilingual education in elementary schools.  She started by telling the story of a family who came to Illinois when the two children were in elementary school.  The parents were advised to speak only English at home and the children, a son and a daughter, were placed into English-only classes.  The daughter, who picked her English name to be Sarah, was eventually placed into a special education program, even though she did not have a learning disability.  She simply was not yet strong enough in English to use it as a vehicle to learn the other subjects in school.  In high school, Sarah spent most of her free time watching television and working at a fast food restaurant.  She had no intention of attending college.  The son did not finish high school and joined a gang.  The two kids had also grown apart from their parents once their English skills began to surpass those of their mom and dad. 

I may not have recounted the story exactly as Dr. Clardy told it, but the message is clear.  Maintaining native language skills helps your child to learn at school and promotes a family connection and cultural identity at home.

Unfortunately, too many teachers still recommend to parents that they only speak English at home. Families are broken apart and cultural traditions are lost when children’s native language and culture are ignored.  Children are not blank states; they begin learning as soon as they are born.  The best thing to do is to continue to build on the foundation you’ve already established.

ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD!  Don’t let the school take your child out of the English Language Learners program too early.  Wait until they are ready.  Get involved with the school and your child’s class.  Volunteer, join the PTA and the Bilingual Parents Advisory Council (BPAC).  You are your child’s first teacher…always.  Maintain the connection with your child through the ways most comfortable to you so that you will have a long lasting relationship.

Every culture values and respects teachers in different ways.  Latino families show respect by giving distance to teachers.  They view the teacher as the professional who knows what they are doing; they don’t need interference from parents.  From the view of the teacher, this respect comes across as lack of involvement and, perhaps, lack of interest.  To further exacerbate the issue, many monolingual teachers do not understand the needs of bilingual students while bilingual teachers are hired only for their language skills and are otherwise unqualified to teach.  Don’t be afraid to say something!  No one will look out for your child like you do.

To get more involved, share your cultural traditions with your child’s first teacher.  Offer books and other materials at home in your language as well as English.  Look online (i.e. other posts from this blog) for ways to interact with your child that will promote their learning and language skills.  Together, let’s ensure your child the brightest future he or she can get!


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