Closing the Word Gap: Raising Bilingual Children to Excel

The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” (also part of a book title used by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1996) has been one of the most widely quoted expressions on the support system required to raise a child. This quote reflects the mission statement of my startup; it’s also a mantra I believe in because of my own experience of moving from low-income to educated, and then to successful.

Despite the fact that I was raised by a single Latina mom who worked three jobs to support her family, I learned at home that education was the key to success and prosperity. Unlike other parents around us, my mother sent her children to preschool (According to National Center for Education Statistics less than 50% of Latino children today attend pre-K), she took us to the library, museums, and other educational events that celebrated learning and our Latino heritage. My siblings and I were all placed in the best expeditionary learning  school in the country: World of Inquiry in Rochester, NY.

There was a village of educators, community-based organizations, family, and friends who enveloped me in language (Spanish & English), diversity, knowledge, and community. That #30million word gap didn’t exist in my life because I had access to plenty of dialogues, books, and fun cultural experiences.

Did you know there are 4.4 million English Language Learners representing 10% of all grade school students? These students are 25% less proficient in English and essentially starting their academic experience in Kindergarten already in the achievement gap. Many of these students are raised by single, low-income parents who have less than a high school diploma. By second grade should these students not catch up, the federal government decides how many prisons to build. They know these students are at-risk to drop out and, therefore, may require social services or become engaged in criminal activity. Might you personally know some of these families and children? If so, is it possible for us to come together as a village to support our Latino children who desperately need to improve their reading, knowledge of math concepts, and language skills in both Spanish and English?

According to Eugene García, PhD and author of Understanding the Language Development of Early Education for Hispanic Children, “school readiness and school achievement patterns have their foundation in the period from birth to age three, a time at which the home and family typically play the dominant role in the development of children.” In other words, the home environment is one of the most important ways to build literacy skills. In these families, parents talk less to toddlers than their white counterparts and, therefore, are also less likely to encourage dialogue. There are also fewer books/literacy materials in the home. All these factors result in far lower spoken vocabularies, a predictor of reading and comprehension skills.

As an educated, bilingual mother, I told my son stories, read to him, sang songs with him, and put him in pre-K, knowing full well he was developing his language skills and cognitive abilities in two languages.

Underserved Latino youngsters are exactly the audience I’m trying to reach through my company Tipi Tom Tales; a digital media platform to help accelerate English language learning while exposing kids to vocabulary in two languages, early math concepts and games designed to improve their cognitive abilities. It’s true that it takes a village. Let’s build that village together to help our children succeed in school and life.




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