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Educator Empowers Teens New to America to Keep Linguistic Identity

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Designed to empower high school students new in America to see the world with biliterate and discerning eyes, a Summer Language Academy was presented for 88 teens from 17 different countries who speak 14 different languages — from Arabic and Korean to Pashto.

Fernando Rodríguez-Valls, associate professor of secondary education, co-led the academy with Roxanna Hernandez, school site administrator at Savannah High School, where the academy was held earlier this summer. The academy is a partnership between the College of Education and Anaheim Union High School District, in which Rodríguez-Valls designed the academy curriculum, with input from the district. CSUF teacher candidates helped co-teach the program alongside the district’s veteran teachers and instructional assistants.

The program’s goal is to enhance teens’ language skills in English by exploring and reaffirming their self-identity and their cultural and linguistic richness, while training future bilingual teachers. Rodríguez-Valls will present a 1:15 p.m. workshop on this topic at Friday’s (July 28) California Teachers Summit in Room 67 of the Education-Classroom Building.

Why is this program needed?

The academy gives English-language learners from across district schools the opportunity to work with teachers to deeply analyze who they are and where they came from, and build a foundation for a welcoming community. District teachers, instructional assistants and teacher candidates also are introduced to new ways of teaching based on caring, mindfulness and integrity. Dr. Alison Dover [CSUF assistant professor of secondary education], who has knowledge and expertise in this area, helped to articulate these elements, which are the core of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching methods.

What are some misconceptions about students from other countries?

Often, the cultural and linguistic richness students from foreign countries bring to the schools is ignored. The academy shows them that their languages and cultures are assets. I see them as emergent bilinguals, students who already speak another language and are committed to add a new language and new culture to their identities, not by assimilating themselves, but by integrating and enlightening their new communities.

Why is it important to keep one’s own language?

Being multicultural and multilingual is an asset. Through the academy, we show these new arrivals — in the U.S. less than three years to several months — that narrow thinking is démodé and it is based on fear and struggle for power. We teach students that being global means being mindful, caring and respectful for other people’s languages and cultures. We talk about the difference between accepting and embracing other people’s views and ideas. We empower and challenge them to see the world with critical, multiliterate and multicultural eyes.

What tools do you give students?

We teach them how to think critically — the importance of seeing and analyzing problems from different views and perspectives. We show them that it is much harder to care than to hate. The academy follows five principles of caring: To listen if you want to be heard; to welcome if you want to be invited; to share if you want to be fair; to respect if you want to be appreciated; to love if you want to be loved; and to assist if you want to be helped. We also work on developing an awareness that will allow students to become participatory and democratic citizens in their classrooms, and in the American society.  

What do you find most rewarding?

I want to show everyone that education is much more than standardized tests and direct instruction. Teaching and learning should be about questioning the status quo and eliminating one-way thinking. When I developed this program, I thought about a space where teaching overpowers instruction, where learning surpasses drilling, where languages conquer monolingualism, and most importantly, where thinking eradicates fanaticism and a fake sense of univocal identity.  

View a video about the Summer Language Academy here.