During add.a.lingua’s August teacher training, U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga addressed nearly 160 dual language immersion educators, administrators and point people. The proud parent of several Spanish immersion students, Huizenga expressed his sincere gratitude to the teachers for their hard work.
Touching on economic, cultural, and security concerns, Rep. Huizenga minced no words about the importance of dual language immersion education, “If we’re not going to prepare our kids to compete on the world stage, it’s not going to be good.” He charged the teachers and administrators to become advocates for their immersion programs in their school and communities, and with policy makers at the state and national level.
Following the keynote address, add.a.lingua gathered with nearly a dozen school administrators, Rep. Huizenga, Chairwoman of the MI House Education Committee, Rep. Amanda Price, and Vice Chair of the MI House Education Committee, Rep. Daniela García, to discuss ways to raise the visibility of dual language immersion education as well as the challenges to program sustainability.
During the wide ranging discussion, it was noted by several administrators that the demand for dual language education is outstripping the supply of instructors with the necessary level of target language proficiency and state teacher certification. As Nancy Susterka, Principal at Northern Hills Middle School of Forest Hills Public Schools, noted, “We’re behind the eight ball related to language education. But we need to have a change in mindset, and move forward by creating flexibility regarding teacher certification.”
Sherie Williams (Grand Valley State University) and Rui Niu-Cooper (Aquinas College) provided an explanation of their institutions’ respective federal and state compliance obligations related to teacher certification. Representatives Price and García were able to provide clarity related to how the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) functions within Michigan’s governmental structure under the supervision of the State Board of Education. Constitutionally, legislators have very limited oversight of the regulatory framework that governs K-12 schools and the teacher certification process.
Zeeland Christian School Principal Bill VanDyk observed, “[Federal immigration laws create an] additional layer related to retaining highly qualified teachers, in some cases removing good teachers from the classroom or preventing qualified candidates from entering the classroom and country.”
Participants also discussed the possibility of Michigan offering a bilingual/biliterate seal for high school graduates who demonstrate a high level of academic language proficiency in the target language. Many other states have or are pursuing this graduation seal as a way to honor the achievements of bilingual and biliterate students and raise the visibility of language education generally.
Lilah Ambrosi summed up our post-discussion feelings: “We want to extend our sincere thanks to the administrators, lawmakers, and higher education representatives who carved time out of their schedules to participate in this conversation. We believe this was a positive first step, and we appreciate the spirit of cooperation exhibited by all.”
add.a.lingua looks forward to continuing our conversation with the Michigan Department of Education related to teacher certification and preparation, and to hosting school tours and further discussions with policy makers at several partner schools in the weeks and months ahead. For those who have additional questions that we didn’t cover during our discussion, and per their request, the participating legislators can be contacted at the following links: