For this Community, Bilingualism is Not a Problem. It’s an Asset header

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For this Community, Bilingualism is Not a Problem. It’s an Asset.

How can schools and communities create an inclusive environment for English-language learners? It starts by recognizing that bilingualism is an asset to be encouraged, not a problem to be solved. That was a major takeaway from “Language of Excellence,” the100th and final GradNation Community Summit, on March 17 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Whether in business, school, or personal life, “success is built on inclusion, not exclusion,” saidGuillermo Iveguiof MAPFRE Insurance in the Urgency of Excellence panel discussion.

More 150 people from the education, business, government, and philanthropic community attended the event, convened by theLatino Education Institute, to discuss the importance of bilingualism and cultural diversity. More than 50 youth were also in attendance to add to the discussion and share creative presentations.

The summit was part of a statewide effort to increase graduation rates for students whose first language is not English (FLNE), work that is supported by theGradNation State Activation initiative. As part of this effort, the Center for Promise will release research on the FLNE student experience in May.

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Youth from the Latino Education Institute’s Youth Civics Union perform a skit about the immigrant experience

In Worcester Public Schools, the high school graduation rate is 81.9 percent overall and 74.3 percent for English language-learners (ELL). Keynote speaker Margaret Burns remarked that this gap, traditionally called the achievement gap, is better termed the “opportunity gap,” since the onus to close the gap falls on communities, not on students.

In an effort to create a more inclusive environment and help bridge this gap, the Latino Education Institute supports awarding a Seal of Biliteracy to students who graduate with dual-language proficiency.

Representatives from the business and higher education sector further explored the benefits of bilingualism, remarking on its importance for the workforce and the economy. Francy Magee, dean of students at Clark University, shared how having diverse students on campus enriches life for everybody.

“Students need multicultural competency to succeed in today’s marketplace,” said Linda Looft, assistant vice president at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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Speakers discuss how Massachusetts can support bilingualism and multiculturalism on the “Language of Excellence: A Statewide Conversation” panel discussion.

Bertha Rojas, manager of ELL and supplement support services at Worcester Public Schools, said it’s also important to recognize that student achievement isn’t always a reflection of intellect. “The only thing the students don’t know is English,” she said. “They have a world of thinking.”

Language is also key to understanding Worcester and the United States’ vibrant immigrant community, said Michelle Huaman, the world languages liaison at Worcester Public Schools.

“Bilingualism is more than just conjugating verbs and learning a language from a textbook,” Huaman said. “It’s about building empathy.”

The Worcester Summit supports the goal of the GradNation State Activation Initative, a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to leverage statewide change. In Massachusetts, the State Activation focus area has been on supporting students whose First Language is Not English (FLNE).