A universal dream for parents is the desire to see their child thrive and succeed in life. Access to a good quality education is the key to unlocking that dream. For English Learners (EL) the education system is hardly equitable. Lack of resources and services for these students continues to be a challenge especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without live in-person instruction, EL students do not have anybody to turn to for guidance, and so they struggle to complete class work they do not understand. As schools across California shut down and transitioned to distance learning, EL students were left to experience the highest rates of learning loss in the nation.
These students are not alone. Across the state and throughout Los Angeles County, organizations such as Californians Together and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles work collaboratively with nearly 100 civil rights, policy, philanthropic, educator and community-based organizations as part of the Consortium for English Learners Success. The Consortium advocates for an educational system that supports the needs and embraces the assets of EL students. “Having a diverse coalition of organizations that reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the EL student body is critical in crafting equitable and inclusive policies that consider the unique needs of each population,” says Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, deputy director of Californians Together.
In California, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AAPI & NHPI) are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the state. Yet they are one of the most underrepresented and underserved populations in the educational system. The AAPI & NHPI communities speak dozens of languages that create barriers that are hard to overcome.
Language access is a major obstacle preventing EL parents from being an active partner in their child’s education. According to a recent parent survey conducted by Education Trust-West, a quarter of non-English home speakers say their child’s school has not provided materials in other languages. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this need was amplified as parents searched for resources and information in their native languages that could make their child’s transition to distance learning easier. In a time that calls for high rates of parent engagement, the AAPI & NHPI population continues to be invisible in critical spaces like parent meetings where translation services are limited to include mainstream languages such as English, Spanish or Mandarin. The status quo is no longer acceptable.
Thanks to organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice -Los Angeles, EL parents and students are empowered to harness their collective voice, regardless of English proficiency, to push for long-term sustainable change through advocacy and policy change. “Our organization helps develop community leaders, and we recognize that the best advocates are parents and students because they are directly impacted by the inequities in our educational system,” explains Victoria Dominguez, education equity director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “Their powerful testimonies provide insight to legislators who are responsible for drafting policies that affect their lives.”
The pandemic has made the Consortium’s work even more relevant. EL students and their families are part of the racial and ethnic minority groups that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. School closures are laying bare the disparities in household resources for effective distance learning— with one in three LAUSD students lacking access to high-speed Internet or a computer at home. Technology is no longer a luxury, but a critical part of the learning process and must be recognized as such at a state and federal level.
Many EL parents are immigrants who work in low-wage jobs that risk exposure to COVID-19 to make a living and do the work our government deems essential. The exclusion of more than 900,000 undocumented Angelenos from public benefits granted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act due to immigration status leaves thousands of students vulnerable to homelessness, hunger and financial hardship. With school closures the safety-net services that help to mitigate these disparities, such as school meal programs, and social, physical, behavioral and mental health services have been disrupted for EL students.
This moment demands us to work together across racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines to confront the inequities that have plagued our education system for decades and have prevented EL students from thriving and realizing their dreams. “When we begin to re-imagine our education system, we must ensure that we’re thinking about the assets EL students and their families bring, instead of thinking of them as deficits that we need to fix,” says Xilonin of Californians Together.