Long before I began raising my own emerging bilinguals, I dedicated my life to raising others. I’ve now been a certified ESL teacher for a decade, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with a wide range of emerging bilinguals from kindergarten to adult learners, but the majority of my time has been spent teaching middle schoolers.
There must be a very special place in heaven for middle school teachers, as the role of ringleader to a preteen circus is not for the faint of heart. But I feel compelled to teach those middle years, where young people are just starting to find their voice, understand their identity and assert their individuality. They’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical, and guiding those kids through young adulthood is such a challenge, but also a joy.
I taught the highest level of ELD at Fuller Middle School for many years, and each June we would have a promotion ceremony for the students who passed the ACCESS test and gained native-language fluency in English. For some students, that meant one year of English instruction, and for other students, it took up to six or seven years. (Research shows it can take between 5-7 years to learn a language fluently, and the rapidity of language acquisition depends on so many factors; it really differs depending on each student's own educational journey.)
These promotion ceremonies were the highlight of many students' academic years, and a chance to celebrate the grand feat they had accomplished—the transition from emerging bilingual to bilingual. And at each ceremony we recognized students with a certificate, a potluck lunch, and the students and I produced some sort of performance to showcase their language prowess.
In 2014 my 6th grade class performed a tribute to Maya Angelou by memorizing some of her most famous poems. We called it, “Still I Rise Reprise.” Those same students will be graduating from high school this June. But unlike when they were in 6th grade, there will be no ceremonies or parties. They will not hear their name called over a microphone, and they will not be dressed to impress as they receive their diploma certificate. My heart goes out to them, and I’d like to offer my sincerest condolences that this mandatory social distance quarantine has robbed them of these very special memories and experiences they earned.
So in tribute to these students, I present to them their 6th grade selves. Six years ago, they came together and spent the year becoming fluent in English in my class. They had overcome so much adversity just to get that far, and succeeded in becoming bilingual at just 12-years-old. Now, they are entering adulthood and face a slew of other challenges to overcome. But I know they will continue to succeed, because they are fighters, and they've made it this far. They will continue to rise.
Congratulations class of 2020.