Honoring Our Diversity During National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month
Diversity is celebrated in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) as we observe Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month. “In ACPS, bilingualism and multilingualism are viewed as assets to be developed and celebrated; this approach serves as a strong equity lever in a society that often approaches language learning as a challenge or hurdle to overcome,” Office of English Learner Services Executive Director Dr. Bethany Nickerson said.
ACPS serves a linguistically and culturally diverse community, with students speaking 121 languages and representing 118 countries. The school division strives to ensure the needs of students learning the English language are addressed in keeping with the division’s pledge in the 2025 Strategic Plan: Equity for All. With 37% of ACPS students identified as English learners, the division aims to meet the needs of multilingual students in various ways, including providing services to support students’ language development, academic success and social-emotional development. In addition to providing traditional English learner services, ACPS offers a specialized dual language program in which students study their core subjects in both English and Spanish.
“Bilingualism and multilingualism are superpowers that improve student outcomes, open economic doors and empower communities,” Nickerson said. She adds that students who maintain their home language and add another language to become bilingual (or multilingual) have been shown to reap a myriad of benefits, including:
- Educational: Comparable or higher academic achievement as compared to students in English-only programs; associated with higher graduation rates among children of immigrants.
- Cognitive: More cognitive flexibility, better attention/executive functioning skills, creative thinking and problem-solving abilities compared to monolingual students of the same age; may delay or prevent onset of Alzheimer's and other cognitive difficulties later in life.
- Sociocultural: Higher levels of cultural awareness, stronger empathy development, more global thinking, stronger connection to heritages and community and greater levels of tolerance.
- Economic: Enhanced employment and business opportunities, higher earning potential and greater occupational status when students enter the workforce.
Embracing the many languages and cultures among ACPS families, the division’s family liaisons serve as a connection between division schools and multilingual families.
“Bilingual family liaisons in ACPS develop programming, engage in outreach and link families to resources and supports that can ease their transition to the school system,” Dual Language Coordinator Jen Hamilton said. Family Engagement Coordinator Avanda Williams-White further explained, “Multilingual family liaisons serve ALL families at their schools, not just those who speak a language other than English. For example, Spanish-speaking family liaisons serve families that speak English, Amharic, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, French, etc. There are also English-only family liaisons that serve all of the families at their schools.”
Another example of how ACPS strives to be inclusive of its linguistically diverse population is through the Language Line Direct Response (Direct Response) system, which offers families easier access to interpretation services when they call their child’s school. Language Line Direct Response allows families who speak Spanish, Amharic, Arabic, Farsi and Pashto to contact ACPS with a qualified interpreter already on the phone line. This resource is an addition to the existing phone interpreting services that staff use to contact families in more than 100 languages. Families can access Language Line Direct Response at 1-833-611-1667.
- Office of English Learner Services
- family engagement