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A Case for Changing How We Label English Learners with Araceli García

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As educators we are acutely aware of the power of the words we teach our students - but are we equally aware of what we are teaching them with the words we use to describe them? Given the evolving educational landscape, is it time to rethink the label we assign to those learning English as a second language?

Araceli García believes the answer is yes. She recently served as an inaugural Education Policy Fellow with the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), where she focused on rights of emergent bilingual (English learner) and immigrant students. While with the IDRA she was heavily involved in the successful adoption of the term “emergent bilingual” across the state of Texas. 

We spoke with Araceli to learn why she believes “emergent bilingual” is the proper term, rather than labels like English Learner (or even Multilingual Learner) that many of us are accustomed to using. She and her colleagues believe this shift can lead to significant changes in how we perceive or educate diverse students. Listen to the full podcast episode here on Highest Aspirations. 

Below are a few powerful points that Araceli made during our conversation:

Outdated terms like English Learners or Limited English Proficient can lead to internalized perceptions and lowered expectations of these students.

“The change helps reject some of the deficit-based terms that have been put onto students and define the opportunities that are or aren’t offered to them.”

Changing a term can be a catalyst for more: it sparks important conversations and can reinvigorate excitement around bilingualism.

“The new term led to important conversations between teachers, administrators, and students and their families.”

We still have much to accomplish on the road to achieving true equal rights for all learners.

“What didn’t happen was an increase in funding for these learners, concrete laws to address the chronic bilingual educator shortage - we still have a long way to go.”

During the conversation we mention the following resources:

Araceli García grew up on the South Side of San Antonio and is the daughter and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. She is the first person in her family to attend college, and her passion for immigrants’ rights stems from seeing her family and community insist on dignity while struggling to navigate their immigration and socioeconomic status. A graduate of Stanford University, Araceli has received several awards for her academic excellence and community service including the John Gardner Fellowship for Public Service, Newman Civic Fellow Award, and Stanford's Porras Award for Visionary Leadership. Most recently, Araceli served as an inaugural Education Policy Fellow with IDRA, where she focused on rights of emergent bilingual (English learner) and immigrant students. Araceli graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in Chicanx/Latinx Studies and a minor in education. Currently, she is pursuing a law degree at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, where she was named an Equal Justice Scholar and plans to continue serving low-income and racially marginalized communities.