No Kansas kid should be left monolingual

The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Rachel Showstack is Associate Professor of Spanish at Wichita State University and founder of Alce su voz, an organization that supports health equity for Spanish speakers in Kansas. You can read the following column in Spanish here.

When Wichita experienced a water-related emergency in early October, officials issued a boil water advisory in English, then later relied on city employees (not professional translators or public information officers) to add information in Spanish after the fact.

In a real emergency, this process could have resulted in serious health problems or even the death of people without access to the initial announcement in English. This demonstrates the need to equip the Kansas public service with a strong workforce of professionals with skills in multiple languages, and the process should start with school children.

Considering the more than 20,000 Kansas public school children who speak Spanish as their first language, the strong presence of speakers of Vietnamese, Arabic, German, Chinese and African languages, and concentrated pockets of other languages ​​in regions Specifically, public education in Kansas does relatively little to support the maintenance of languages ​​other than English and the development of students’ skills in those languages. Kansas’ public school system could make it possible for such an illiterate workforce to develop by expanding language course offerings and providing appropriate courses for its diverse student body.

Young children who speak languages ​​other than English at home, called emerging bilinguals, should have the opportunity to develop literacy skills in their mother tongue. However, the majority of these students do not see their language represented in their primary education. There are a few bilingual immersion programs, such as Wichita’s Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet, which offer courses taught in English and others in an additional language, and there are a growing number of heritage language courses designed for students. students formally study a language they learned at home.

However, given the growing diversity of the state, more infrastructure is needed to support the development of multilingual children in the state.

At a minimum, the state should support the creation of additional bilingual immersion programs for the most commonly spoken languages, provide professional development to teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages ​​(ESOL) on how to support development skills of students in their families in addition to English, and offer teacher training programs on bilingual education and heritage language teaching at major state universities.

The Scholarships for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages ​​and Bilingual Education demonstrate that maintaining children’s family language supports their English language development and overall academic success.

A national recognition called the Biliteracy Seal is awarded to students who master reading, writing, speaking and listening in English and another language after graduation from high school. Kansas public schools are beginning to offer this recognition to students. However, without better educational opportunities for disadvantaged students from families who speak a language other than English, the Seal may be elusive for these students.

Students who indicate in a home language survey that they speak a language other than English at home are generally placed in ESOL if a selection shows that their English is not strong enough to be successful in the studies. regular classes. Meanwhile, these students are expected to use only English in school until middle or high school, when they can take world language classes.

Those who oppose programs that support students’ first language development believe students need to focus on English to be successful.

But scholarship in teaching English to speakers of other languages ​​and bilingual education demonstrates that maintaining children’s home language supports their English language development and overall academic success.

Some parents and teachers may assume that emerging bilinguals will develop skills in their family’s language at home. As a parent of a child who learned Spanish before learning English and has been educated in English since preschool, I know that it is not easy for second generation speakers. to keep their family language, especially in a state dominated by monolingual ideologies. Also, reading and writing skills are not learned through conversation with family members.

Meanwhile, students in the Kansas public school system who grow up speaking only English at home and not exposed to another language in kindergarten or elementary school are missing out on the opportunity to learn a second. language as a child, which can be much easier than learning one as a child. a teenager.

KSDE’s motto is “Kansas Leads the World in Every Student Success”, but how can Kansas lead the world if the students speak no languages ​​other than English? No Kansan should remain monolingual, and there is no reason why the state cannot guarantee that the majority of its students acquire intermediate reading and writing skills in two or more languages.

Kansans interested in supporting multilingual education in our public schools should attend local board meetings. They should also write to KSDE to advocate for increased opportunities for dual language and heritage language education and for increased provision of language courses at elementary school level.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.

Edward K. Thompson