White House voices support for dual language learners at regional summit

Donna Shalala continues to impact education in South Florida, but she focused on a younger age group than usual Thursday morning.

The former University of Miami president and current president of the Clinton Foundation was one of several distinguished guests at a White House regional summit on dual language learners.

“This requires every part of this community to step forward and join with us to help our littlest learners and their families,” Shalala said.

The summit, which took place at Miami’s United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education, accompanied a White House federal policy statement in support of dual language learners in early childhood programs.

“Knowing more than one language is a good thing, not just for [the children’s] own future, but for our collective future as a country,” White House Deputy Assistant for Education Roberto Rodriguez said.

Summit attendees heard panel discussions and research presentations.

Shalala and Rodriguez each spoke briefly, as did National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía and Head Start director Blanca Enriquez.

“We’re taking rigorous research about the cognitive benefits of bilingualism...and translating that research in a way in which parents and other members of the family can help their children to grow,” Shalala said.

The research showed that early childhood is the best time to learn a language and that bilingual babies exhibited greater “mental flexibility” than their monolingual counterparts. Miami-area families can learn about the research through a new “Talk, Read, Sing” public awareness campaign, which launched at Thursday’s summit.

Summit attendees saw three television ads that will soon air on Univision. The ads encourage parents to communicate with their children in their home language.

The Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe Country joined Univision on the campaign, as did Too Small to Fail.

Kara Dukakis, daughter of former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and director of Too Small to Fail, represented the organization at Thursday’s summit and announced the campaign.

Too Small to Fail is a joint initiative between the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute focused on the education of American children up to the age of 5.

After the presentations, a group of students from the United Way Center gave a brief performance. The 3- and 4-year-olds spoke, danced and sang in both English and Spanish before returning to the classroom for some well-deserved nap time.

“I could not think of a better come and really showcase the potential and high-quality programming that can serve our dual-language learners and help them succeed,” Rodriguez said of the United Way Center.

The United Way Center “won’t just be the exception, but will be the standard and will be the rule for serving our dual-language learners moving forward,” Rodriguez said.