A Reflection from Board of Education Vice-President Jaime Guzman

Last week, the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) held its annual conference in Chicago. This was a huge honor, as educators and school leaders from around the country, and even as far away as China, chose our city as the backdrop for some critically-important work.

I had the privilege of addressing this group during their time in Chicago, and it was a very personal experience for me. Because while I was there as the Vice-President of the Board of Education, representing the more than 70,000 English Language Learners now enrolled in our schools, I was also there as the bilingual student I used to be.

Like 85 percent of our English Learners, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. English meant nothing to me until I started first grade, and unlike today, there were few resources to help me acclimate. There were no dual-language programs or Spanish-speaking teachers, and certainly no one letting me know that my language and culture was something to be celebrated.

Things are much different today, and I’m proud to be part of a school district that is making such great strides in bilingual education. CPS views multiple languages as an asset – a fact evidenced by the more than 100,000 students now enrolled in our world language programs, and the high school graduates who have earned the State Seal of Biliteracy by becoming fully proficient in two or more languages.

For those students who come to us as English Learners, we provide specialized instruction in a bilingual setting, or a dual-language curriculum where every subject is taught in both English and Spanish. I applaud the CPS educators who are doing this work, because as a former bilingual teacher, I know how rewarding it can be despite the challenges.

CPS provides bilingual teachers with the training and support they need to help their students thrive, and we are proud to partner with NABE, which works to ensure that a child’s native language is never a barrier to their education.

As I said at this year’s NABE Conference, I’m honored to represent a District that stresses the need for English proficiency while making a point to respect, honor and celebrate the language and culture of every student who comes through our doors.