This commentary was submitted by volunteer contributor Yeshey Beyene, Technical Assistance Program Officer, First 5 San Francisco.
In San Francisco, 6 in 10 preschool-age children speak a language other than English at home. Throughout the history of this country, educators have prioritized English acquisition over the optimal development of children. However, more recently, we have begun to see these children’s languages other than English as assets, not liabilities.
Scientific research has shown that bilingualism can have a profoundly positive effect on brain development, improving cognitive skills and learning outcomes for children. Being bilingual has some obvious advantages. The home language is a vital link between the child and his/her culture, history, and previous generations of family. Learning more than one language enables new conversations and new experiences. It gives children a head start in the skills needed for an ever globalizing world. Research further shows higher levels of proficiency in the home language also facilitates learning English.
At First 5, we strive, through our professional development initiatives, to support bilingual and monolingual early educators to stay on the cutting edge of teaching dual-language learners in their classrooms. Over the past ten years, we have promoted innovative models such as Soy Bilingüe and Abriendo Puertas to strengthen dual-language learners’ pathways to school readiness and further racial equity. Our hope is that over time, dual-language immersion programs and staff will become the norm in early learning, as will the systems to support them.
This year First 5 hosted more than 200 hours of professional development aimed at supporting early educators who are working with linguistically and culturally diverse populations and want to plan and implement dual-language programs. The professional learning community (PLC) that formed as a result of these trainings is extending learning opportunities and fostering collaborative learning among colleagues. Educators in the PLC come together to review best practices, family engagement activities, assessment tools and language plans. They have stimulating discussions on innovative strategies, reflect on documentation, engage in interactive activities and cultural practices.
Below are some highlights from recent Spanish and Chinese dual-language training and discussion held at First 5.