Alesha Moreno-Ramirez, director of the Multilingual Support Division at the California Department of Education, speaks to Language Magazine
How have your experiences prepared you for this role? I’ll begin by sharing this: Many years before I was born, there was a teacher in Texas who stole my inheritance. Through outdated ways of thinking, this educator taught my grandmother that hers was not the language of school. The impact resonated and resulted in the stripping of both language and culture across generations, which I experienced as a sense of loss and longing. I am privileged and impassioned by the opportunity to support more positive experiences for today’s generation of multilingual learners from within the California Department of Education’s Multilingual Support Division, guided by our state’s English Learner Roadmap policy.
My experiences in leadership, in the classroom, and in the field have helped me develop a broad sense of perspective around the assets and affordances of multilingual learning. Through early experiences as a native English-speaking student in a bilingual program, I marveled at the power of intercultural connections and multilingualism. And later, as a bilingual educator, I aspired to contribute to the cultivation of empathy and appreciation that is inherent to a multilingual, multicultural classroom. From site and district coaching lenses, I observed the benefits of high-quality dual language instruction—the highs of positive student experience, educational outcomes, and community impact. Through various jobs at the county office, I was able to assist in the emergence of new dual language programs, support aspiring dual language educators, and engage as learner and contributor to regional and state committees in the development of tools and resources geared toward the interests of multilingual learners.
Further, community partnerships, networking with others dedicated to the interests of multilingual learners, and supportive mentoring have helped me to understand the responsibility of advocacy in the interest of students. The English Learner Leadership and Legacy Initiative (ELLLI), for example, was pivotal in my development as a voice for multilingual learners, growing relationships across the state, and helping me understand critical history and policy on top of programs.
This role is an opportunity to deeply engage community partnerships and promote the benefits of multilingual experiences for all students through a policy lens, and to support robust multilingual programs for emerging multilingual English learner students and dual language learners.
What will be the priorities during your first year? Priorities this year center around supporting Superintendent Thurmond’s vision to further equitable access to a meaningful education for all learners, through a particular lens of service to migrant, immigrant, multilingual, and English learner students and dual language learners. Supporting the EL Roadmap policy, the Multilingual Support Division is committed to providing tools, resources, and technical assistance to improve academic achievement and language proficiency for multilingual learners.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted all students, and the distance learning experience has had a disproportional effect on English learner students, making our next steps even more critical. In tandem with California’s exceptional educators, we are committed to closing the opportunity gaps that existed prepandemic.
We’ve learned much about adapting programs, service, and supports, and we are poised to reimagine what education can be for multilingual learners and migratory and immigrant students. We are primed to tap into the learning that did occur at home and to grow stronger and more responsive to students’ experiences.
What’s so interesting about today’s context is that, even in the wake of challenge, California is experiencing a renaissance of multilingual education backed by the historic English Learner Roadmap policy. Our team remains invested in implementation of this innovative policy with assets-oriented approaches, a focus on quality instruction and meaningful access, consideration for how systems and structures serve as cornerstones of programs, and a commitment to alignment across preschool through college. With policy implementation as our mission, my priorities are to grow access to dual language programs and to cultivate partnership in service to English learner students.
We are encouraged by the $10 million available for one-time grants as part of the Dual Language Immersion Grant Program and by the early interest and enthusiasm from the field. Also exciting are the long-term investments in universal preschool and transitional kindergarten. With these commitments in mind, we will collaborate with experts across the continuum, from early education and TK through high school and into our colleges and universities, to identify opportunities for improving access to quality dual language programs staffed with well-prepared and supported multilingual educators. Leveraging common interests in the experiences of English learner students and multilingual learners, I am also dedicated to furthering connections with and learning from advocacy groups and community partners. Together, we can move aspirational policy into practice.
How do you plan to cope with the predicted shortage of multilingual educators? Increasing the bilingual teacher pipeline is a multipronged effort that includes alignment, communication, education, and investments in new programming. While we continue to message the impact and value of becoming a multilingual educator, we have the opportunity to tap existing initiatives.
For example, the migrant program’s Mini-Corps teacher’s assistant program can help increase our multilingual teacher workforce from within. The State Seal of Biliteracy (SSB) is another promising approach and grows the cultural and linguistic capacity of California’s students, potentially cultivating interest and opening the doors for future bilingual educators.
Over the long term, the Biliteracy Pathways leading to attainment of the SSB can further support the multilingual educator workforce. CDE’s Multilingual Support Division will soon roll out this new Bilingual Pathway Recognition Program, which will celebrate milestones toward bilingualism and dual language literacy from preschool through middle school. Moreover, collaboration with higher education can promote expansion of bilingual teacher education programs and increase the bilingual teacher pipeline. Programs such as the Global Seal of Biliteracy offered by San Diego State University are outstanding opportunities to recruit future multilingual educators.
Together, these programs can offer a creative avenue for inspiring multilingual capacities across the P–16 experience. We can also continue to learn from efforts such as the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program, out of San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, which has created a pathway for bilingual paraprofessionals to pursue entry into the multilingual teacher workforce. Additionally, Educator Workforce Investment Grant (EWIG) EL Roadmap Policy implementation programs are instrumental to growing bilingual educator capacity through ongoing professional learning experiences for multilingual teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals.
The English Learner Roadmap Implementation for Systemic Excellence! (EL RISE!) effort by Californians Together and CABE’s Multilingual California Project (MCAP) are empowering educators and sparking interest in dual language education across the state. These experiences can help encourage credentialed educators to pursue bilingual certification and support aspiring teachers to enter the bilingual teaching profession. Growing the multilingual educator workforce is a long-term effort, but new money and programming will put us on the right trajectory.