Our Kids, Our Responsibility

A couple of us from the Latino Leadership Council recently met with Roseville Joint Union High School District (RJUHSD) to discuss their efforts to remedy their previous misuse of English-Learner (EL) funds and the resulting lack of services to EL students. Many of you may recall that they attended one of our community meetings soon after their lapse came to light, and we wrote in this blog about their missteps, their plans to make good and our community’s responsibility.

While it’s been almost two years since they came and talked to our group, we are glad that progress is taking place, albeit slowly, and that they currently have a draft plan ready to share. Before I delve into the main topic of this blog post, I want to invite everyone to our April 14th community meeting, where RJUHSD representatives will be presenting their plan and asking for feedback. If we are not there to provide guidance, challenge missteps and help make this an effective plan that truly helps our community, it will be disingenuous of us to complain of any shortcomings of the plan in the future. The District is asking for our participation and it is our responsibility to answer the call.

On to the main topic of this blog post…while meeting with RJUHSD a couple of weeks ago, something they said really surprised me and stuck with me. A large percentage of EL students are actually kids who were born in the United States or have lived here all their lives. They are not immigrants. They have lived all their lives here, speaking English. So how on earth is a life-long English-speaker considered an English Learner? They have been failed along the way by those put in place to help prepare them.

Yes, the schools and teachers bear a lot of the responsibility for not teaching them properly. I also can’t help but wonder how many teachers see a Latino kid, particularly one struggling with the Language a bit, and readily dismiss them as an EL student, lower their expectations and let them whither away rather than challenging them to excellence. But at the center of this issue are the parents.

We cannot continually complain about how others are failing our community without first looking at how we are failing ourselves. By the time our kids reach high school, if they are linguistically unprepared, it’s short of a herculean task for the high school to remedy 14 years of shirked responsibilities. This problem must be tackled earlier. At home.

I fully understand the desire to keep our culture and language alive by ensuring our kids learn Spanish. Being bilingual is an incredible asset, one that has opened innumerable doors for me personally, and something we should do our best to give to our kids. But it does little good to have our children learn Spanish if their English is not up to par. I’ve witnessed countless parents say that they raise their toddlers at home exposed exclusively to Spanish, because, in their words, “they’ll learn English when they get to school.” That approach shifts the responsibility for the child’s success from the parents to the school. Why would we do that? By the time the child reaches school age, they will be behind their cohorts. Early on they will learn that they trail behind the rest, that they won’t succeed as well as the others and that expectations for them are lower. By that point, we’ve failed our children and set them on path that is difficult to right. Then we blame the teachers and school officials for not fixing our mistakes.

I get it. Many of the parents don’t speak English themselves, making it harder to raise the children in a bilingual home. But that doesn’t mean the parents can’t ensure their children learn English, learn it at an early age and learn it well.

I know we want to foster our Latino culture and heritage, but it is important to create opportunities for our kids to interact with and learn from other kids outside our Latino community. Enroll your young children in social activities, sports groups, anything in English where they can start picking up the language before they go to school, while it is still incredibly easy for a child to naturally learn a language. Expose them to educational age-appropriate television in English. Do Sesame Street instead of Plaza Sesamo. As they get a little older, be sure to get them reading in English. There are books at every age and reading level that can help increase their vocabulary, reading skills, grammar and communication skills.

Yes, I know it is much harder for a non-English-speaking parent to take on the responsibility of ensuring their child learns English properly. But being a parent is not about being easy. Parents must step outside their comfort zone and not isolate their kids in our culture and language. In this country, our Latino culture and language are the keys to freedom and success when paired with mastery of the English language; but are the chains of isolation and subjugation when left bare.

We must continue to keep our schools accountable and ensure that the needs of our children are being met. But we need the same level, if not more, of diligence in ensuring that we ourselves do what is best for our kids. And that is endowing them with the tools and skills necessary for each of them to live a better life than we have.

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