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There's A New Virtual Library For California’s Youngest Multilingual Learners

A young boy in a black baseball cap holds up a red book with an image of instruments on one page and a description in English and Spanish on the opposing page.
A child looks at a bilingual book at Mis Renas inside Olvera Street (La Placita Olvera) in Downtown Los Angeles on July 21, 2021.
(Brian Feinzimer
For LAist)
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A New Virtual Library Of Resources For California’s Youngest Multilingual Learners

About 60% of California children under five speak a language other than English at home, according to research.

In order to support them, the state Department of Education teamed up with a nonprofit and other partners to create a new toolkit for teachers.

“Like other achievement gaps, the academic challenges of our dual language learners and English learners are best addressed early,” said California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Sarah Neville-Morgan at a press conference last week announcing what’s called the Multilingual Learning Toolkit.

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The new website is a virtual library with more than 225 research-based strategies, tip sheets and videos, covering everything from family engagement to social-emotional development and literacy, to assist early educators teaching kids who are either English learners or dual language immersion students.

For example, there are suggested activities to help multilingual students learn to read. One involves introducing them to books in their first language, before reading the same book as a group in English.

“We really opted for including strategies in the toolkit that had the highest level of evidence that demonstrate effectiveness,” said Lisa White, an early childhood researcher at the American Institutes for Research. The organization developed the site along with the state education department, non-profit Early Edge California for teachers who work with multilingual learners in preschool through third grade.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than a dozen early childhood dual language programs for kids in preschool to expanded transitional kindergarten in Spanish, Mandarin and Armenian and will soon add more. These students can advance to dual language programs in elementary school and beyond.

“If you're planning something in preschool, and using a particular strategy, it grows and it progresses to kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade and so on,” said LAUSD itinerant teacher Lisette Sepulveda. She trains early educators and weighed in on early versions of the site.

The new multilingual toolkit “brings all of those resources together with a common purpose of supporting multilingual learners,” Sepulveda said. “And we don't have to scout all over.”

Sepulveda mentioned, for example, consulting recently with a dual language immersion Spanish teacher who was trying to help a student — whose family at home speaks not Spanish, but Farsi. With the new toolkit at her disposal, Sepulveda could have turned to the section of the site with ideas for helping children develop a language they might not understand themselves.

Like other achievement gaps, the academic challenges of our dual language learners and English learners are best addressed early.
— Sarah Neville-Morgan, California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction

LAUSD kindergarten teacher Gabriela Gonzalez said she’s also eager to explore the new website.

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She said when she started her career 20 years ago, kids in her classroom would deny that they spoke Spanish.

“Even though I know they did, and their families only spoke Spanish, it seemed like once they entered school, they were ashamed of it,” Gonzalez said.

Today she teaches in English at Multnomah Elementary in El Sereno, but knows many of her kindergarteners also speak Spanish at home, and she wants to support them as bilingual students.

“I really want to promote with the kids and with their families that it's something that's going to benefit them,” Gonzalez said. “It's an asset to be a multilingual learner.”

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.