California State University, Fullerton

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Studying Bilingual Families and Public School Experiences

Four Questions With Sharon Chappell

May 7, 2013

Sharon V. Chappell, assistant professor of elementary and bilingual education, is delving into issues bilingual families are facing in public schools. Last month, she saw the publication of "The Arts and Emergent Bilingual Youth," a book she co-authored about the sociopolitical perspective of working with emerging bilingual youth at the intersection of the arts and language learning.

Chappell also has made the documentary, "Con Mucho Orgullo: Oral Histories of Bilingual Families in California Schools," focusing on the stories of four bilingual families across two generations who attended California schools. Graduate students in education gathered the oral histories in order to help teachers better understand the linguistic and cultural needs of Latino youth at school.

Why is this research important?

Scholarship and schooling practices increasingly need to build critical, creative, caring curriculum and instruction. The arts are underfunded in schools, which disproportionately impact minority youth, such as English learners. Further, the new embrace of the Common Core standards does not include social studies education as its own discipline. Thus, we need to articulate how creative, critical and caring practices not only survive, but also thrive within school policies that do not systematically support them. My research addresses the complexity and locality of critical, creative and caring practices that cannot be contained easily into a packaged or scripted curriculum. They are dynamic, emergent methodologies that respond to the local challenges of each community, while attending to documented, historical trajectories of oppression that impact all people in the United States — and the world.

How are graduate students involved?

I'm supporting graduate students in their individual research to create critical, creative and caring curricula in the arts and social justice for their masters' projects. Two graduate students, Regina Saenz-Lara and Raquel Martinez presented their oral history research at the California Association of Bilingual Education Conference this spring. Raquel and I will present curricular applications of this research at a working group for understanding language at Stanford University this summer.

What makes a school welcoming for bilingual children and their families?

Schools need to make efforts in their policies and practices to be culturally and linguistically responsive to bilingual children and families. This means that schools should:

  • Embrace home languages and cultures as assets in the classroom
  • Examine assumptions of what family involvement in schools should look like and embrace multiple modes of participation
  • Actively learn the home languages of families
  • Promote interactive, family-based learning in home languages and literacy

How can schools/teachers support bilingual families?

They can identify assets in the communities that schools serve and develop mutual partnerships. Also, they can ask families what their wishes are for the school, their children and learning. Additionally, it's important to employ staff who speak the languages of the communities and/or share a disposition to learn, embrace and respond to the communities that schools serve.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research