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Pepperdine Chapter of California Association for Bilingual Education Fosters Multicultural K–12 Learning Amid School Campus Closures

With approximately 1.2 million K–12 English learners enrolled in California public schools, many teachers are encountering a multitude of challenges when attempting to connect with multicultural students through the distance-learning techniques required by the pandemic. Even with access to reliable home computers and internet service, thousands of multicultural students are home with non-English-speaking grandparents on weekdays while their parents work full-time jobs, which can make it more difficult for them to log onto digital platforms like Zoom to attend classes. Such challenges have produced unprecedented pressures for teachers to provide meaningful lessons and educational discussions to help these particular students maintain a sense of community during a time of isolation. 

To combat these language barriers and subsequent achievement gaps, newly elected student officers of the Pepperdine chapter of the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) have joined forces with a vast network of researchers, teachers, and administrators to develop the best quality instruction for English learners and their families. Comprising students, alumni, staff, and faculty from the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP)—the only university to establish a chapter with CABE—the group strives to highlight multiculturalism and educational equity for the communities across Los Angeles County and beyond through events such as conferences, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities.

Reyna García Ramos - Pepperdine University“Most of the parents of English learners are also essential workers in service-based industries, particularly in factories, fields, maintenance, and landscaping. As a result, these parents who work all day come home tired, stressed, and unsure of how to support their children during this time of online instruction,” explains Reyna García Ramos, professor of education and director of the master of arts in teaching (MAT) program at GSEP. As the faculty liaison of the association’s Pepperdine chapter, García Ramos advises that, “Leaving a voice message, mailing a newsletter home, and using student-teacher communication apps are key to reaching multicultural students and parents. You have to know the community you serve and know that traditional modes of communication do not work for our Latino English learners and their families.”

According to the most recent California language census recorded by the California Department of Education, nearly 42 percent of the state's students speak a language other than English at home, 19 percent of which are English learners. In June 2020 additional surveys demonstrated that during the pandemic's academic shift from in-person classes to virtual learning, more than 90 percent of California-based parents received English-language information from their children’s schools about how to access digital education platforms, 67 percent of which were unable to understand the instructions because of language barriers. Under California’s Proposition 58, which appeared on the state’s November 2016 general election ballots, certain school districts now offer multilingual K–12 programs that feature instruction in seven different languages, most commonly Mandarin and Spanish. These multilingual programs, which allow students to learn in their home language while simultaneously becoming proficient in English, promote the development of holistic communities and seek to diminish the linguistic divide between older and younger generations living in the same household.

“Elementary school was tough and traumatizing for me as I learned English, and many kids mistook my shyness and fear as unfriendliness. I even thought my teachers were spiteful when I was unable to participate in events or practices that no one had taken the time to explain to me,” recalls García Ramos. “In high school I thought about being the teacher I wished I’d had when I was five, and decided to become an educator to mentor other kids to remain positive and diligent, because these experiences leave scars that are not easy to remove.”

Following a chaotic spring 2020, Los Angeles public schools witnessed a notable decline in enrollment during the fall semester, with thousands of young students not showing up for their online classes. Partially resulting from mixed messaging about whether schools would reopen or remain closed throughout the year, this alarming rise in missing students and their loss of education has prompted some Pepperdine MAT alumni to work as “learning loss” teachers hired specifically to teach English learners, students with special needs, and others that have not adapted to online instruction and are now at risk of failing.  

Linda GuzmánLinda Guzmán, principal at St. Paul Dual Language Academy in Mid-City Los Angeles, president of the Pepperdine chapter of CABE, and current student in the education doctoral degree program at GSEP, has connected with numerous educators in the public and charter sectors about meeting the unique needs of bilingual students.

Guzmán, who has attended as many CABE professional development workshops as possible over the last two years, realizes that, “As teachers we often want to believe that everyone is equal, but the reality is that everyone has different needs, and those needs must be addressed.” In assessing such needs, she gathers all the lessons she learns from CABE and shares them with her faculty in order to create goals for upcoming semesters. “Some teachers aren't sure how to support students with language barriers, and CABE has helped us understand how to navigate that realm, especially through the lens of servant leadership, mutual respect, social equity, human rights, and community empowerment.”