Educational activism: dual language programs
Montserrat Garibay works at the federal level to increase and improve opportunities for English learners.
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Originally from Mexico City, Montserrat Garibay had Texas as her home for 30 years. She came to the United States as an undocumented kid not knowing a single word of English, and the public school system was responsible for teaching her.
More precisely her middle school teacher, Ms. Hernandez, who spoke Spanish and was able to assist her tremendously with that language barrier. Within a year, Garibay transferred to an all English classroom.
Ms. Hernandez was the reason why Garibay became initially a teacher and later an educational activist. Her dedication to teaching and connection with Garibay’s mother showed her the importance of having someone who cares.
Up to this day, they are still in touch, and Ms. Hernandez has the pleasure to see Garibay as the Assistant Deputy Secretary & Director for the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), in the U.S. Department of Education. Completing a full circle in her life, Garibay has now the mission to oversee the program that understands the impacts qualified teachers in collaboration with the different entities have on strengthening the opportunities for English learners.
“At the federal level, the way that we can uplift the importance of multilingualism is by really highlighting and utilizing the secretary’s voice on how well these programs are working throughout our country,” she added.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish language teaching and a minor in bilingual education; Garibay landed a job at the school district, where she stayed for eight years. “The best thing in the world” was how she described that experience.
During that time, she also became very involved with Education Austin — a merged union local with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations — where she started learning about being an agent of change.
Those opportunities developed her the abilities needed to open the doors of the Department of Education, where she worked for over two years as Senior Advisor for Labor Relations at the Office of the Secretary before transfering to the new role.
In every step of the way, Garibay has utilized her bilingual skill to bring to the table the stories of those who are many times invisible, so they could be treated with dignity and respect, she said.
Garibay’s heart has always belonged to teaching, but she is grateful for being able to utilize all her knowledge as an educator and English learner to lead an initiative about the importance of bilingualism and what it entails in the 21st century. Although an overwhelming job, through OELA, Garibay is committed to embracing, uplifting and showcasing the successful stories of their students, raising the bar for multilingualism education.
“We are looking at emphasizing that we see our students as assets when they bring their knowledge, culture, heritage and language to our classrooms,” Garibay stated.
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Graduation season has allowed Garibay the opportunity to hear stories and see different examples of students getting their Seal of Biliteracy diploma — given to students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. For her, there is no better gift she can give her students.
Garibay and OELA have received positive feedback on the job that has been done. Students are excited as they feel seen when the secretary of education talks about seeing their skills as assets.
“It is important that we uplift their stories so they can live their American dream,” Garibay stated. “If we put the resources that they need, when they need it and in the way they need it, they can be successful.”
On the other end, OELA feels the need to do more to elevate the importance of teachers and to make sure to have bilingual educators qualified and respected.
Studies say that dual language programs are the best for English learners because they get to keep their language and utilize it to learn a new one. However, OELA is seeing that across the country, the students whose bilingual programs were designed for are not the ones utilizing the resource. Mainly anglo students are currently attending these programs.
Even though Garibay thinks it is great that others are benefiting from it, duo language programs need to be catered for English learners.
Focused on expanding at the federal level, OELA will hold, on June 22nd and 23rd, a National Convening on English Learners’ Civil Rights. The date marks the 42nd anniversary of Castaneda vs. Pickard, the court case that impacted bilingual education programs nationwide.
“We are working with the office of civil rights to make sure we are highlighting guidance and resources to equip states and local education agencies with the tools to meet their obligations to English learners and families,” Garibay said.
When targeting multilingualism, it is important to focus on what the law says and what each state has the responsibility to make sure the students and parents are engaged and know their rights. OELA will be working for the next 16 months on an agenda that is going to address Seal of Biliteracy, dual language, parent engagement, and early learning — as a strong foundation in the elementary years is crucial.