Community language resources in dual language schooling

Community language resources in dual language schooling

Smith, Patrick H

Community Language Resources in Dual Language Schooling1


This ethnographic case study was concerned with the role of community-based, minority-language resources in dual language schooling, and their influence on the use of Spanish by children from English-speaking and Spanish-speaking homes. Integrating theory from the fields of language planning, language revitalization, community participation, and funds of knowledge, the study triangulated data from participant observation in classrooms; interviews with educators, parents, and community members; and document and archival analysis. Examination of minority-language use at an established, highly regarded dual language school and of the shifting paterns of language dominance in the Mexican American neighborhood surrounding it revealed that the minority-language resources most immediately available-held by fluent bilingual elders and recent immigrants from Mexico-were less likely to be incorporated into planned curriculum than the knowledge and experiences of majority-language parents and elite bilinguals. This finding is attributed to the social distance between educators and neighborhood families, the ambivalence of Mexican American parents and school staff toward the use of non-standard varieties of Spanish in schooling, and the need for greater awareness of processes of language shift and loss. Implications for dual language practice and further research are discussed.


Public schooling in the U.S. has been characterized by loss of minority languages and by widespread failure to achieve high levels of proficiency in languages other than English (Evans, 1994; Hakuta & Pease-Alvarez, 1994; Wong Fillmore, 1991). Bilingual education programs have been criticized for isolating minority-language children on the basis of language dominance, thereby depriving them of access to linguistic and cultural models (Sanchez, 1997). Dual language (henceforth DL) programs are unusual because they attempt to address what schools have traditionally regarded as separate needs through a common solution.2 By joining majority-language and minority– language children in classrooms where both languages are used for content instruction and literacy development, DL programs are organized to provide both groups access to native-speaking peers. By challenging the stigma of bilingual education as ethnic entitlement and (conversely) the perception of native language schooling as inferior education for minority-language children (Crawford, 1995), DL programs are regarded by many as a politically viable form of bilingual schooling.

The number of DL programs in the United States has grown dramatically in the past decade (Howard & Loeb, 1998). Recently, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley has called for the creation of one thousand new DL programs over the next five years, approximately four times the current number of programs (Riley, 2000). Students of the history of bilingual education will note parallels with passage of the original BEA in 1968, in which experimental programs were funded without the benefit of prior research (Schneider, 1976). If the DL model is to live up to its promise, careful documentation of the conditions underlying successful programs is sorely needed (Valdes, 1997).

A secondary interest of this study involved understanding how dual language education was conceptualized at the research site. This entailed examination of connections between the historic role of Tucson educators in the development of bilingual education nationally and the development of DL schooling as practiced at the case study school. The study also sought to understand the specific nature of Spanish language and cultural resources within the community. In brief, it was found that the DL program has been shaped by long association with pioneering bilingual educators in Tucson.3 The neighborhood continues to be predominantly bilingual, albeit with dwindling numbers of child speakers of Spanish. Adult Spanish-fluent speakers were concentrated in two groups: bilingual elders and Spanish-dominant speakers recently immigrated from Mexico (Smith, in press).4

The primary interest of the study and the focus of this article was the involvement of these adult minority-language speakers in an established, highly regarded DL program. This research was undertaken with the assumption that DL programs should contribute to conditions necessary for stable bilingualism. The study was conducted to critically examine a case of DL schooling in the context of a vital minority language community, and to understand the way educators make use of the linguistic resources held therein. Theoretical Background From a theoretical perspective, the study sought to test the explanatory power of combined perspectives from language planning, language revitalization, community contributions to bilingual schooling, and funds of knowledge. These combined perspectives were used as tools for understanding the role of minority language and culture within dual language programs. Each of these perspectives is briefly discussed below.

Dual Language Schooling as Language Planning Language planning (LP) provides a useful lens for viewing DL schooling. Following Kloss (1969), it is customary to distinguish between status planning, or the attempt to manipulate the status of a language and its speakers, and corpus planning, which concerns the linguistic content of a language. Cooper (1989) offers a third type, language acquisition planning (LAP), to describe efforts to help people acquire or learn languages. Several studies of DL schooling have drawn on the notion of LAP (viz., Craig, 1993; Freeman, 1996). Because they attempt to create within schools a new balance between majority and minority languages and speakers, DL programs are ideal sites for exploring the nexus of LAP and status planning perspectives.

Ruiz’ (1984) notion of orientations in language planning is especially useful for understanding the role played by two languages in DL programs. In this framework, LP efforts may be characterized as having one (or more) of three orientations: (a) language as problem, (b) language as right, and (c) language as resource. DL programs are examples of language-in-education policy that regards minority languages as resources (Craig, 1993; Ruiz, 1998). Following Edelsky (1996), the study questioned the ways) in which participants in DL programs employ minority languages, by asking “resource for whom?” and “resource for what purpose?” In the following section, I turn to a discussion of the second perspective used in this study, dual language schooling as a force for language maintenance and revitalization.

Dual Language Schooling as Force for Language Maintenance and Revitalization

Scholars have generally been pessimistic concerning the effectiveness of schooling in promoting use of minority languages beyond the school (e.g., Edwards, 1994; Fishman, 1991). Recently, however, attention has been called to the importance of local conditions in individual communities as factors in language maintenance and revitalization (Tosi, 1999). In the case of Hualapai and other languages indigenous to North America, geographically isolated, rural communities have used a combination of schooling and “extra-school institutions” to stem the tide of language loss and shift to the majority language (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1997, p. 108; see also papers in Fishman, 2000). Given political pressures to promote English language acquisition as quickly as possible, as well as the fact that the number of Spanish speakers of Spanish in the United States continues to increase rapidly (Villa, 2000), it is not surprising that DL curricula have been unconcerned with language shift in Hispanic communities. Unfortunately, these realities mask the fact that, increasingly, Spanish-English bilingualism is a transitory state for children of Spanish– speaking homes in the United States. As Nettle and Romaine (2000, p. 194) put it, “Spanish is fast approaching a two-generation pattern shift rather than the three-generation model typical of immigrant groups in the past. Without the replenishing effects of continuing immigration, Spanish would scarcely be viable in the U.S. over the long term.”

The problem is further confounded by a tendency in the literature on DL schooling to ignore the continued existence of Spanish in communities where schooling in that language has historically been denied. For example, Vasquez, Peace-Alvarez, and Shannon’s (1994) otherwise exemplary description of the need for Spanish maintenance in an emerging program in Lawson, California, illustrates the common assumption that Hispanic students in DL programs are recent immigrants and/or native speakers of Spanish. Recent descriptions of DL populations indicate that this assumption excludes from consideration the growing numbers of Hispanic students who enter school dominant or monolingual in English (e.g., Urow & Sontag, 2001). To account for the full range of linguistic proficiencies held in Mexican American communities, therefore, research on DL schooling must acknowledge and seek to understand these dual phenomena: (a) the addition of Spanish speakers through recent immigration and (b) minority-language (re)development within the broader context of generational language loss.

It is important to understand how issues of Spanish language maintenance and revitalization have been addressed in DL programs. In a review of three decades of research on bilingual education, Troike (2000) reminds us that, as the “majority” language, English has always been present in U.S. programs. Compared with other forms of bilingual schooling, however, DL programs aim to increase the functions served by the minority language, as well as the number of students who speak it. In theory, well-designed and rigorously implemented programs can be viewed as `language islands’ in which the language practices and ideologies of the broader society are challenged and, perhaps, temporarily suspended. In practice, close observers of DL classrooms note that students from both majority-language and minority-language homes are often reluctant to use the minority language (Edelsky, 1996). This reluctance has been noted even where programs have been structured to optimize conditions for additive bilingualism (McCollum, 1999; Moll, Saez & Dworin, 2001).

Faced with what Freeman (1996, p. 579) has termed “leakage,” the discrepancy between ideal language use envisioned in curriculum planning and the language actually used by learners, DL educators and researchers stress the importance of privileging the minority language within the school (Christian, Montone, Lindholm, & Carranza, 1997).

Some “one-way” immersion programs have attempted to do this by limiting the number of student speakers of the majority language (Lambert & Tucker, 1972; Swain, 1971) in order to minimize contact with the wider community. However, such an approach is not linguistically or pedagogically feasible in DL programs, which, by definition, seek to integrate linguistic groups through schooling. In contrast to such closed system approaches, and mindful of the patterns of language shift in Mexican American communities outlined above, this study takes up Kjolseth’s (1972) question about the effects of minority– language schooling on language use within communities. Specifically, the intent was to examine the two-way linguistic connections between a DL program and the Spanish-speaking neighborhood in which it is located. In the following section, I briefly review the relevant literature on how minority-language communities contribute to DL schooling.

Community Contributions to DL Schooling

Despite their relatively short history, DL programs have been recognized as important sites for examining the contributions of minority-language families to schooling (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000). From the earliest days of publicly funded bilingual education in the United States, the efforts of educators and other language planners to foster community participation have too often been undermined by a deficit perspective towards minority-language students. An illustrative example comes from the seminal report, The Invisible Minority, which cites the educational needs of “the [Mexican American] child who enters school with a language deficiency and the cultural deprivation of his long– continued poverty” (National Education Association, 1966, p. 8). More recently, within a broad tradition of inquiry on the relationship between academic achievement and children’s homes (Goldenberg, 1993), research has shown that minority-language parents and caretakers do indeed make substantial contributions to the education of their children, albeit in ways that often go unnoticed by educators (Torres-Guzman, 1991; Valdes, 1996).

Because DL programs typically place a high value on parental involvement (Christian, et al., 1997), and given that DL educators hold impressive linguistic and cultural resources relative to their counterparts in other forms of bilingual education (Howard & Loeb, 1998), we may ask whether the tendency of schools to undervalue the contributions of minority-language communities is less true of DL programs. There are some indications that this is so. For example, in a study of DL schooling in Philadelphia, Rubio (1995) reported that Puerto Rican parent volunteers participating in a range of classroom-based and other schooling-related activities showed “active agency” in response to school and community issues. In this way, parents became advocates for their children’s education in ways visible to and appreciated by educators.

Based on a survey of parental attitudes, Craig (1993) found that both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parents viewed dual language schooling as an opportunity for their children to learn more about the language and cultural values of the other group. In a well-known study of DL schooling at the Oyster Bilingual School in Washington, D.C., Freeman (1998) documented the successful efforts of educators and parents of minority-language and majority-language backgrounds to forge a school identity drawing on the linguistic and cultural resources of all partipants. Finally, Torres-Guzman (1998) reported on DL teachers’ reflections on videotaped classroom segments as tools to activate and “make visible” local cultural and linguistic knowledge. Thus, she modeled a way to construct more appropriate literacy curricula for middle school students by using videotapes.

Despite these apparent advances, other evidence suggests that community involvement in DL programs continues to be oriented toward the interests of majority-language, middle-class parents. Noting longstanding differences in the educational needs of Mexican American and Anglo children, Valdes (1997, p. 393) cites a Mexican American bilingual educator opposed to dual language programs in the belief that learning Spanish will provide Anglos with another tool for taking advantage of Spanish speakers. In a microethnographic study examining the interaction of English- and Spanish– speaking students in a DL kindergarten classroom, Delgado-Larocco (1999) found that mainstream parents were successful in directing the focus of instruction to the linguistic and academic needs of their children.

These findings are consistent with evidence from a pilot study preceding the present investigation: in parent-teacher meetings at a nearby Tucson DL program, English-speaking parents routinely dominated discussion despite the considerably greater numerical presence of Spanish-speaking parents (Smith, 1998). At issue is the extent to which DL programs, embedded within the multiple structures of state, district, and (in the case of strand-type programs) school, are capable of rethinking family and community participation. In the next section, I argue that funds of knowledge research offers tools for educators seeking to address the specific needs of minority-language students and families.

Funds of Knowledge

The fourth perspective incorporated in this investigation is funds of knowledge. Veiez-Ibanez (1995) lists the funds of knowledge held in U.S. Mexican households in the areas of social exchange and culture, education and religion. It has been suggested that by understanding the household learning dynamics in which such funds are developed, schools can better serve Mexican American children (Velez-Ibanez & Greenberg, 1992). This research has led to training programs and study groups in which educators come to view the homes of minority-language students as partners in the education of Spanish-speaking and ethnic-minority children. Teacher– researchers in Tucson have gathered information about cultural practices in the homes and families of their students, transforming these findings into curriculum that is both meaningful to students and a bridge to academic success (Amanti, 1995). In research with Mexican American families, teachers cite the importance of Spanish in communication and as a vehicle for certain kinds of knowledge, particularly as conveyed by literacy (Moll & Gonzalez, 1994). To date, however, work in this tradition has not focused explicitly on language development.

Following Gonzalez (1995), “funds of knowledge” refers to “historically accumulated bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household functioning and well-being” (p. 4). This notion has been applied to the schooling of Mexican American children as teachers seek to understand experiences, practices, and knowledge otherwise invisible or undervalued by the school (Moll, 1992; Moll & Gonzalez, 1994). This study extended the concept of funds of knowledge to focus specifically on knowledge of a language. “Linguistic funds of knowledge” encompass what speakers know about their language(s), including how languages are learned and used. The term is proposed here to describe a collective fund or resource for the school, a possible theoretical and pedagogical tool for minority-language development.

Context of the Study

The study was conducted in the “quasi-border” city of Tucson, Arizona (Jaramillo, 1995), at a dual language school located in “El Barrio” [The Neighborhood], one of the city’s oldest Mexican American neighborhoods. Founded in 1901, “La Escuela” (The School) served this primarily Spanish– speaking community through English-only instruction mandated under the Americanization program (known locally as “el chilindrino, ” [trifle, thing of little value]) for nearly fifty years.5 Following a federal desegregation settlement in 1980, La Escuela became a bilingual magnet school (K-5) serving families in El Barrio and (primarily) majority-language families from other areas of Tucson. The school adopted the DL model in 1994, in part to compensate for decreasing numbers of Spanish-fluent students due to loss of homes in El Barrio and generational language shift to English.

Like DL programs described in the literature (see Christian et al., 1997; Cloud et al., 2000), the program at La Escuela has gradually increased the percentage of minority-language instruction. During the period of investigation, La Escuela employed a “70-30” model in which Spanish was the sole language of instruction in kindergarten and first grade. Students in upper grades gradually received more content instruction via English, up to 30 percent in the fifth grade. The study coincided with initiation of a school-designed literacy program, Exito Bilingue, in which Spanish is the language of initial literacy instruction for all students (see Smith & Amot-Hopffer, 1998).

The student population of approximately 225 students is comprised primarily of Hispanics (66%), followed by White/Anglo students (23%). African American, Native American, and Asian American students constitute 11 % of the total school population.6 Approximately half (50.7%) of La Escuela students receive free or reduced lunch under the Federal Meals Program. Table 1 compares La Escuela to other DL programs described in the literature. Using Federal Meals Assistance as an indicator of socio-economic status, La Escuela is in the middle range of well-known DL programs.

As the district’s bilingual magnet school, La Escuela draws from two populations, identified by DL educators as la comunidad del Barrio [the neighborhood community] and la comunidad extendida [the extended community], which comprise approximately 40% and 60% of the total school population, respectively. Although both groups are majority Mexican American, most Anglo students live in the extended community. Students from El Barrio are more likely to receive free or reduced lunch, to have parents with fewer years of formal schooling, and-of particular importance to this study-to speak Spanish at home or to have Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents. In keeping with state law and district policy, alternatives to bilingual schooling are available to neighborhood and magnet students; however, stability is high and mobility rates for students of all ethnic groups are approximately half that of district averages. Another salient feature of DL education at La Escuela is the highly qualified and experienced faculty. Dual language teachers have been found to be well qualified compared to teachers in other types of bilingual programs; Table 2 compares 17 educators at La Escuela with the results of a national survey of 181 DL teachers conducted by Howard and Loeb (1998,2000).

This comparison reveals that the faculty at La Escuela is particularly well qualified compared to counterparts participating in the national survey. Educators at La Escuela are more likely to have grown up speaking Spanish, to hold bilingual teacher certification, and to have completed an advanced degree. They also have more years of experience as DL teachers-a joint factor of the age of the La Escuela program relative to most programs across the country and low faculty turnover at the school-with an average tenure of nearly 11 years. Significantly, the great majority of teachers at La Escuela have received content instruction in Spanish, paralleling their students’ experience of learning through a minority language.

Contrary to claims that bilingual teachers do not choose Spanish language schooling for their own children, 60% of the teachers with school-age children have sent them to La Escuela. Several others have tried but were unable to do so due to the lengthy waiting list and current lottery system of admission. The knowledge and perspectives teachers gain by having children at the school serve as a powerful source of information to be shared with fellow (nonteacher) parents, as well as with fellow (non-parent) educators. By selecting the DL program for their own children, these teachers demonstrate their belief in and commitment to the quality of instruction. Thus, they are able to act as doubly legitimate authorities for parents with concerns about the benefits of bilingual education.

The family metaphor also captures the dense social network of teachers, staff, and (primarily extended community) families at La Escuela, many of whom are related by blood, marriage, and compadrazgo [godparent] relations. The strength of these ties is evident on a daily basis, as in exchange of after-school childcare or simply “echando un ojo al nino” [keeping an eye on a child], as one teacher put it, while a colleague works in another part of the school.

La Escuela is also widely recognized for its outstanding music and arts program, provided for under the federal desegregation settlement. The performing mariachis and guitarristas, perhaps the only such groups at the elementary-school level in the United States, are well known for their contributions to the arts in Tucson. During the period of study, the mariachis performed at the Arizona State Senate, the International Mariachi Festival, and numerous local concerts. The founder and director of the music program at La Escuela was recently honored as the state’s bilingual teacher of the year.


A case study design was chosen due to the unique (Stake, 1995) and geographically and temporally bounded (Merriam, 1998) nature of the research site. Data were triangulated from five sources: (a) 28 semi-structured, tape recorded interviews with educators, parents, and community members; (b) regular participant observation in classrooms and El Barrio over a two-year period (1997-1999); (c) school and district documents and records; (d) archives from the El Barrio Neighborhood Association; and (e) U.S. Census data. Field notes and interview transcripts were organized thematically, with initial categories developed in a pilot study and modified and expanded throughout the study. Supplementary interview and classroom observation data were obtained from collaborating researchers conducting a longitudinal study of language ideology and biliteracy development at La Escuela. All text data were entered into QSR NUD*IST (Version 4.0), a software program designed to facilitate coding and analysis of ethnographic data. Finally, through regular and extensive use of member checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985)-sharing classroom observation notes, interview transcripts, preliminary findings, and drafts of chapters with key participants-I ensured that the findings were based on accurate and ethnographically rich data.

The Researcher’s Stance: Evolving Roles in Case Study Research

Over the course of the study, my stance as a researcher evolved to incorporate multiple roles within the school and barrio communities. Beginning as an outsider, I moved towards insider status by gradually taking on new roles at La Escuela, eventually becoming evaluator of children’s Spanish and English literacy development, data manager of the longitudinal study at the school, and ethnographic recorder of a teacher study group devoted to improving Spanish literacy instruction. The latter experience, particularly ongoing collaboration with the curriculum specialist and three classroom teachers, allowed me to test ideas and tentative conclusions as the investigation proceeded.

Perhaps the most important shift in researcher roles occurred when my daughter entered La Escuela as a kindergarten student, in the final three months of the data collection phase. Besides increasing the amount of time on site, I was thus able observe child-adult language use in a greater number of domains. These included the before- and after-school programs, the cafeteria, and the parent-teacher organization. Furthermore, becoming a La Escuela parent marked me as more than “simply” a researcher. Rather, this change in status allowed faculty to see me as following the parent-teacher/parent-staff model practiced by many educators at the school. Finally, moving to a house within the neighborhood meant that my daily routines became more oriented to El Barrio. During the final six months of fieldwork, the store, playground, park, and swimming pool closest to our home were those in El Barrio. This proximity provided increased opportunity for observation of local language use and the social networks of child residents. It also facilitated assessment of the potential for in-school participation by barrio elders and other adult bilinguals. Thus, as a parent-researcher, I was able to check the validity of the impressions about school-home connections formed over the first year and a half of the study.


Salient events were identified and confirmed in which dual language students at La Escuela interacted with adult members of the Spanish-speaking community in school-initiated activities. These included (a) participation in classrooms by parents and family members; (b) fieldtrips to a family farm in El Barrio; (c) oral history and letter writing projects involving senior citizens; (d) recording public service announcements on a Spanish language radio station; (e) writing letters to a community newspaper; and (f) guest projects led by native speakers of Spanish affiliated with the University of Arizona. A complete list of these events is provided in the Appendix. In the following sections I present examples from visits to a Mexican American market in El Barrio, children’s interactions with a Spanish-dominant playground monitor, and school use of a local Spanish-language newspaper.

Reaching out to the Community: visitando La Calle Market

Visiting La Calle Market, the sole grocery store remaining in El Barrio, is one of the oldest traditions in barrio-school relations. A small brick building located in the heart of the neighborhood, the market specializes in tortillas, tamales, chorizo, candy, and other Mexican foods. Close enough to the school so that even the youngest students can easily walk there, La Calle Market is a favorite field trip site for the first grade classes, especially on el 16 de septiembre, Mexican Independence Day.

One important feature of these visits is that the owners and employees have children and grandchildren at La Escuela. Other children from El Barrio also know the market very well. After watching a demonstration of how to make corn and flour tortillas, children sit at the picnic table outside to sample tortillas, burritos, and candy. The market’s delivery truck, thank-you letters from visitors from other schools, displays of tee shirts and calendars, and printed labels bearing the name of the market all suggest that this is an institution with a presence beyond the physical confines of the neighborhood. Teachers remarked that visits there serve to validate the importance of Mexican American culture generally and El Barrio in particular.

The value of such trips for children’s exposure to, and use of Spanish was less consistently apparent. To be sure, children heard Spanish spoken by customers and employees involved in making and satisfying service requests. There was also input of a sort from the television or radio (and sometimes both!), always tuned to a Spanish-language station. In terms of child directed language, however, the picture was mixed. Some teachers reported that when workers at the market address children in Spanish, students respond in Spanish, with little recurrence to English even by English-dominant students. Another teacher described an after-school walking tour of El Barrio, during which students interacted primarily in English but switched to Spanish when the group stopped at the market for a snack.

This was not always the case. For example, on a field trip by Sra. Galarraga’s first-grade class, the tour was led by an employee who is also the mother of one of the students. Deyanira’s mother used only English as she showed children how to prepare flour tortillas. This may have been due to her daughter’s presence in the group, as Deyanira’s family addresses her primarily in English. However, the pattern of addressing young children from La Escuela in English is also consistent with a belief held by some adults in the neighborhood that La Escuela students do not understand Spanish. As highly fluent bilinguals, the owners and employees can easily choose the language(s) they will use with children on such visits. In the absence of explicit encouragement by teachers to use Spanish, they typically chose to address children in English, thereby limiting much of the opportunity for children to use Spanish in this domain.

Back at the school, Sra. Galarraga’s first-grade class incorporated the visit to the market into their daily noticias del dia [news of the day] routine. When an Anglo child volunteered the sentence “Today we went to the market,” the teacher asked, “I Como se dice en espanol?” [How do you say that in Spanish?]. After an English-dominant Mexican American student answered, “Hoy fuimos a la marqueta” (sic), Sra. Galarraga, a native of Puerto Rico, supplied the word “colmado” [store] and wrote on the board the sentence, “Hoy fuimos al colmado La Calle. ” As she wrote, students spelled each word aloud in Spanish. Despite substitution of the non-Spanish form “marqueta,” there was no discussion of the Caribbean term “colmado” or comparison with local terms for “market,” such as “tiendita” or “mercado.” Bringing in the Community: The Stories of Sr. Verdugo

In addition to taking children into El Barrio, educators at La Escuela also brought Spanish speakers from the community into the school to interact with students. Sr. Emilio Verdugo is a prime example of such a person. A native of Cananea, Sonora and long-time Tucson resident with several grandnieces at La Escuela, Sr. Verdugo has worked as playground monitor for nearly 15 years. As a former copper mine supervisor and trade union secretary on both sides of the border, he is one of the the school’s senior and most respected employees. Despite his own proficient bilingualism, Sr. Verdugo represented himself to children as a Spanish monolingual. A scene from morning recess illustrates how Sr. Verdugo’s presence makes the playground a particularly rich source of minority-language input:

With first and second graders huddled around him, Sr. Verdugo distributes jump ropes, basketballs and frisbees from a cardboard box. He grumbles a bit that this is really the job of the physical education teacher. As he passes out the toys, some children begin to write on his clipboard their names and the equipment they want to use. Angelica looks up from the clipboard and asks Sr. Verdugo, “?Como se dice jump rope’ en espanol? ” [How do you say “jump rope” in Spanish?]. He doesn’t answer at first, perhaps because he cannot hear her question over the talk ofthe other students. Later, Sr. Verdugo jokes with Aisha and Ernie, who run up to ask him, “iMe permite ir al bano?” [May I go to the bathroom?]. Since Sr. Verdugo is now busy signing out equipment, Aisha approaches me first and asks, “iMe permite ir al bano?” “Estd bien conmigo, ” I tell her. “Pero tienes que preguntarle al Sr. Verdugo, no a mi” [It’s okay with me, but you should ask Mr. Verdugo, not me]. Aisha waits until he is free and then repeats the question twice. Later, when Tony asks the same question, Sr. Verdugo says, “Si, pero me tienes que pagar diez dolares ” [Yes, but you have to pay me ten dollars]. Tony looks at him in disbelief. “I don’t have to pay ten dollars to go to the bathroom!,” he says. Sr. Verdugo laughs and tells him, “Por supuesto que no, mijo” [Of course not, son], as Tony zooms off to the bathroom.

Sr. Verdugo estimated that, like Tony, about two-thirds of the students address him primarily in English. As the previous example illustrates, however, even English-dominant students are able to understand him without difficulty. Reflecting on efforts by La Escuela students and their families to (re)capture proficiency in the minority language, Sr. Verdugo stressed the importance of bilingualism.

Creo por eso que todos los padres deberiamos de ayudar a nuestros hijos porque, yo digo esto, la persona que habla dos idiomas vale por dos. Mis ahora, que estan tratando tanto de eliminar el bilingiismo en todas partes. Pero eso es puro racismo, puro racismo. No es porque el bilinguismo no sirve. !No! Sirve mucho. Cualquier otro idioma que habla usted lo ilustra mas.

[I think all parents should be helping our kids because, I believe, a bilingual person is worth twice as much. Especially now, when they’re trying to eliminate bilingualism everywhere. That’s just racism, pure racism. It’s not true that bilingualism is worthless. No! It’s very useful. Any other language you can speak shows how much you know.]

During the study, Sr. Verdugo was regularly invited to speak to fourth– and fifth-grade classes. On one occasion he was invited to speak to an intermediate level Exito Bilingde group studying a unit on immigration. The teacher, Sra. Valdez, introduced Sr. Verdugo to the class by saying “El tambien es inmigrante como yo. Hay muchas personas aqui en la escuela que somos inmigrantes” [He is an immigrant like me. Many of us in here in this school are immigrants]. Sr. Verdugo thanked her, telling the students “Es un placer estar aqui con ustedes. Espero que pueda responder correctamente a sus preguntas ” [It’s a pleasure to be here with you. I hope I can answer your questions correctly].

The students begin by asking Sr. Verdugo the questions they have prepared. Sandra asks, “I Como fue su vida en Mexico? ?Cuantos anos tuvo cuando vino a Estados Unidos?” [What was your life like in Mexico? How old were you when you came to the United States?]. At this point, Sr. Verdugo launches into the story of his life (“En aquel entonces, no habia kinder.) [In those days, there wasn’t any kindergarten.”] and hardly pauses to catch his breath for the next 45 minutes.

During this time, children heard the story of how Sr. Verdugo had to hide to keep his job as an underage worker in a copper mine (“Me escondi cada vez que pasaba un supervisor Asi pase tres anos, hasta que cumpli los 17 anos.”) [I hid every time a supervisor came around. Did that for three years, until I turned 17.]. He described working conditions during construction of the first golf course in Cananea, built during the depression for aU.S.-owned mining company (“Un peso al dia…. Pico, palo, y hacha. No habia maquinaria.”) [Just a peso a day…. Pick, shovel, and ax. There wasn’t any machinery then.]. Recalling how he was badly burned in a mine explosion, Sr. Verdugo told the students “Se me quemo el cuerpo …. Mis companeros me salvaron con nieve.” [My whole body was burned …. My buddies put the fire out with snow.]. The students giggled as Sr. Verdugo imitated the poor Spanish of the gringo [U.S.] mine supervisor who told him he could never become a supervisor: “tu loco chamaco, aqui nunca hay mayordomos mexicanos. Todos mexicanos no saber nada, lo mismo burros. ” [You’re crazy, kid, there will never be a Mexican supervisor here. Mexicans don’t know anything, they’re like burros.]. All told, the stories describe Sr. Verdugo’s rise from “un chamaco inquieto” [a restless kid] to “el primer mayordomo mexicano” [the first Mexican supervises] in the mines of Cananea.

Near the end of the hour, Sr. Verdugo says abruptly, “Es mucha la historia. ?Mas preguntas?” [That’s a long story. More questions?] Intrigued by all the talk of wars (“la Revolution,” “la guerra del loco Hitler,” “lo de Vietnam “) [the Mexican Revolution, crazy Hitler’s war, the one in Vietnam], Nancy asks, “Z Habia muchas guerras en Mexico? ” [Were there a lot of wars in Mexico?]. From her question, it seems that she is trying to understand if all these wars happened in Mexico. Communication breaks down, as Sr. Verdugo asks Nancy to repeat part of the question. “?Si habia que?” [Were there what?], he asks, evidently thrown off by her non-native pronunciation of the word guerras [wars]. The misunderstanding is quickly repaired without the need for intervention by Sra. Valdez, and the students return to the questions they have prepared.

Tracy: ?Cutntos anos tiene …

[How old ….]

Sr. Verdugo: (Interrupting) g Cuando vine a Tucson?

Forty-five (years old).

[When I came to Tucson?]

Tracy: ?Por que vino a los Estados Unidos?

[Why did you come to the United States?]

Although he has explained this during his talk, Sr. Verdugo answers the question. Quickly, two more students ask him how old he was when he first came to the United States. Sr. Verdugo looks a little perturbed-haven’t they been listening?

It is important to note that such questions were repeated by Spanish– dominant and English-dominant students alike. This suggests that the students’ level of Spanish oral comprehension was not a factor. Rather, it appears that many students simply stopped paying attention during stretches of the lengthy discourse. Furthermore, without sufficient contextualization or transition between stories, even native speakers of Spanish had difficulty following Sr. Verdugo’s rapid shifts in topic. As a result, students missed important information about immigration that they were unlikely to encounter in textbooks. For example, although the class had previously discussed war as a cause of immigration, only a few students appeared to grasp the story of how Sr. Verdugo’s wife wanted the family to return to Mexico during the Vietnam War for fear their sons would be drafted into the U.S. military. This example of classroom participation by a Spanish-dominant adult and strong supporter of the school’s goal of bilingualism for all students illustrates the need for specialized training for community members who would serve as language resources. In the following section, I turn to discussion of how instruction at La Escuela incorporates written language resources in the form of a local Spanish language newspaper.

Reading and Writing to a Spanish Language Newspaper

Aguila [Eagle] is the most recent example of a long string of Spanish language newspapers published in Tucson.7 Since the paper began weekly publication in 1997, La Escuela has received multiple copies for use in classrooms. During the study teachers regularly incorporated Aguila articles into reading instruction during Exito Bilinguie. In one instance, students read an article entitled “1998: Un ano inquietante y turbulento” [ 1998: A disturbing and turbulent year] (Cattan, 1998). Although these third-, fourth-, and fifth– graders were in the school’s second-highest reading group at the time, some clearly struggled to make sense of the article.

Much of the difficulty stemmed from the students’ lack of familiarity with the content, a summary of the major international news stories of the year. In the context of a quiz-show format devised by the teacher, this led to a rather comical moment as students searched the article in vain for the answer to the question “?Quien es Fidel Castro?” [Who is Fidel Castro?]. Based on the text, the answer could only be inferred (someone who met the Pope in Cuba). Emilio, whose family had recently moved to El Barrio from Mexico, used the strategy of selecting the text immediately following the name Fidel Castro to come up with the answer, “;Fidel Castro es el senador John Glenn!” [Fidel Castro is the Senator John Glenn!]. It is important to note that many of these readers might well have had similar difficulties had the article been written in English. As it was, the newness of the material and format made this a less– than-ideal language learning experience.

As the previous example suggests, Aguila has most often been used at La Escuela as a source of authentic reading material, rather than a potential showcase for student writing. A notable exception took place in the fall of 1999, when students in a second-grade classroom read an article about a 12– year-old boy who lost an arm in an accident in the nearby community of Naco, Sonora in Mexico. The article quoted the boy’s mother speaking about how helpless she felt in the face of her son’s severe depression: “Nada consuela a mi hijo, no quiere ver las caricaturas, no comey se le pasa muy callado, ya no se ni que hacer para consolarlo, me duele el alma, pero se que tenemos que seguir adelente” [Nothing consoles my son. He doesn’t want to watch cartoons, he won’t eat or talk. I don’t know what to do to help him. It’s very painful for me, but I know we’ve got to make the best of the situation] (Esparza, 1999a).

The boy’s story impressed the students so much that they continued to talk about him, retelling the events to classroom visitors more than a week after first reading the article. The class decided to write letters of encouragement, which were featured in a subsequent story in the newspaper (Esparza, 1999b). Karla wrote:

Querido Jose Luis,

Yo me Ilamo Karla, y se que te lastimaste porque to vi en el periodico Aguila. Yo quiero que te sientas mejor y que comas para que puedas jugar con tus amigos. Un abrazo y un beso.

[Dear Jose Luis,

My name is Karla, and I know that you got hurt because I saw it in the newspaper Aguila. I hope that you feel better and that you eat so that you can play with your friends. Hugs and kisses.]

The articles, as well as copies of the students’ letters and drawings, were displayed at La Escuela for several weeks, thus creating the opportunity for the student authors to write and read about themselves and the school in a Spanish-language newspaper.

Understanding School Use of Linguistic Funds of Knowledge

As the above examples demonstrate, community language resources were incorporated in DL schooling in a variety of ways. In addition to the place of interaction (i.e., in or outside the school), I was interested in the grade level or school domain in which events took place, language use by children, language medium, and the location of the resources (e.g., from the extended community or El Barrio). Findings for each of these categories are presented below.

Grade or Domain

Most activities incorporating linguistic funds of knowledge took place within the context of individual classes. Local activities, including fieldtrips to La Calle Market and a neighborhood granja [farm], tended to involve the school’s youngest learners, with older students typically visiting institutions outside El Barrio in which Spanish was less apt to be spoken. Of all domains, Exito Bilingue classes were the most uniform sites for incorporating linguistic funds of knowledge. Created to accommodate students’ diverse levels of Spanish literacy within each grade level, Exito Bilingue is perhaps the most consistently Spanish-dominant zone at La Escuela. Significantly, advanced reading groups were most likely to incorporate minority-language resources from the community.

Primary Use of Language by Children

This category summarized language use by children during their participation in the activities and events involving Spanish speakers from the community. Most fundamentally, children’s use of Spanish was influenced, but not determined, by the language used by adult interlocutors. Students were most likely to use the minority language in the presence of multiple Spanish-speaking adults who consistently used the minority language with each other and with children. This pattern is illustrated by visits to La Calle Market, where children’s use of Spanish varied with the language spoken by the store’s bilingual employees. In turn, adults’ choice of code varied by the language frame provided by the classroom teacher or school representative. These frames were seldom made explicit by teachers. Rather, teachers tended to respect the (presumed) language preferences of the bilingual domains into which they introduced their students.

In domains where Spanish was clearly the unmarked language, such as the newspaper Aguila, explicit intervention by teachers was not necessary to trigger Spanish language use by adult interlocutors. However, in most instances adults tended to use English with students unless teachers requested that they use Spanish. Few teachers offered this guidance in or outside classrooms, or discussed issues of language choice with community participants. As one fourth-grade teacher put it, “the language is not really the primary issue, it’s more what the individual person has to offer the school.” This view, shared by a number of her colleagues, suggests that much of the school’s use of minority– language resources from the community was incidental rather than planned.

Language Medium

The term “medium” was used to distinguish between written and oral language (Crystal, 1997; Ellis, 1994). Although many activities involved at least minimal use of both oral and written language, in most cases one or the other medium was predominant. Written language was notably absent as a feature of activities involving residents of El Barrio. In visits to La Calle Market, for example, English was used more often during oral interaction, with Spanish reserved primarily for follow-up literacy instruction in the classroom. Significantly, the activities richest as sources of minority-language experience were those in which students alternated between oral and written language. This was illustrated during a unit on public service announcements, during which students moved from writing the text of radio announcements, to reading them aloud in practice and on the radio, back to writing about these experiences in Exito Bilingue, and, finally, to listening to their announcements broadcast on the radio over the next few weeks.

Location of Linguistic Funds of Knowledge

Despite attempts to increase the presence of El Barrio families at the school, Spanish language resources were much more likely to be tapped from the extended community, including university professors and students and other professionals with high levels of formal education. In contrast, the more physically proximal speakers in El Barrio were less likely to be invited to the school to interact with children. During field trips to barrio institutions and homes, bilingual speakers addressed students primarily in English. Recently, however, some teachers have begun to encourage visits and presentations by bilingual elders, parents, and other family members of newly immigrated students, thereby creating Spanish language learning opportunities for all students.


This study documents ways in which community language resources contribute to the success of a highly regarded Spanish-English DL program. Drawing on combined perspectives from language planning, language revitalization, community contributions, and funds of knowledge research, the study proposes the term linguistic funds of knowledge to describe how educators incorporate local minority-language resources in DL curriculum. Through visits to a vital minority-language neighborhood and through participation in projects involving fluent Spanish speakers at the school, DL students were provided increased opportunities for meaningful input and output in the minority language.

The findings suggest that educators who wish to incorporate minority– language resources from the community into curriculum face considerable challenges. As shown by the examples presented here, the very nature of fluent bilingualism-the ability to use the more appropriate of two codes in any given context-can undermine learners’ access to minority-language resources. The study revealed reasons that fluent bilinguals in Spanish– speaking neighborhoods may choose to address DL learners in English. These included established patterns of language use with children in their own families and the belief(in this case unfounded) that students do not understand Spanish. Parents, grandparents, and other community members, themselves schooled in transitional bilingual education programs or English-only programs, are likely to believe that minority languages (and particularly the local varieties they speak) are inappropriate in educational settings. In the absence of explicit intervention or guidance from the school, the minority– language identities of fluent bilinguals thus become invisible to students. Although they typically prefer to speak Spanish with other adult bilinguals, they appear to children primarily or exclusively as English speakers. In so doing, bilingual speakers forfeit the Spanish-only appearance found to elicit student use of the minority language.

A second barrier to the optimal use of linguistic funds of knowledge concerns the preparedness of those fluent speakers willing to use the minority language with students. Like Sr. Verdugo, many have limited experience in classrooms or working with groups of young children. Likewise, skilled speakers who have been denied the right to develop comparable written language skills in the minority language are unable to serve as strong written language models and interlocutors for DL learners. This is evidence that the effects of subtractive bilingual conditions of schooling long outlast the policies that create them. Furthermore, these effects can function as barriers to current efforts to promote additive bilingualism via schooling.


This study holds implications for practice and research on DL schooling and community language use. These are addressed in turn in the following sections.

Implications for DL Practice

Practitioners and observers of DL instruction report that English-dominant and minority-language speakers alike often avoid extended, spontaneous use of the minority language (Edelsky, 1996; see also Cloud, et al., 2000). The study suggests that incorporating local language resources in DL programs can serve as an effective prompt for student use of the minority language. However, in contrast to success in cultivating cultural resources, local language resources may be utilized with less consistency and with varying degrees of success. Identifying these linguistic funds of knowledge will require careful planning by educators who are already familiar with the community in which they work. Preparing community members to work as effective interlocutors with children on school-directed tasks will also require initial training and ongoing coaching by classroom teachers sensitive to the linguistic abilities and insecurities of local bilinguals. These needs could be addressed in training programs for bilingual teachers and para-professionals. Additionally, they should be considered by programs choosing between cultivating local speakers as teachers and ‘importing’ trained native speakers from outside the speech community.

This study also shows why attempts to incorporate community language resources in DL schooling must take into account the persistent and widespread association of localized language varieties with linguistic inferiority. In the present case, the dual use of Spanish and English by Mexican Americans in Tucson (and throughout the Southwest) has long been assumed to produce a “nominal” bilingual, one capable of speaking “neither Spanish nor English but a mixture of the two-a kind of linguistic hybrid” (National Education Association, 1966, p. 10).8 Although linguists are now largely satisfied that semilingualism is a (disempowering) social construct rather than a legitimate state of linguistic competence (MacSwan, 1997; Romaine, 1995), this knowledge deserves greater dissemination among DL students, educators, paraprofessionals, families, and community members. School-wide language policies have been employed in other DL programs (Freeman, 1998); the present findings suggest that such plans should include discussion of local language varieties. They should particularly address the connection between (low) literacy in the minority language and historical factors (including schooling) in language shift and loss. Without explicit emphasis on the adequacy and dignity of local ways of speaking, linguistic funds of knowledge like those described in this study are likely to remain invisible to those schools and programs that have greatest need of them.

Theoretical Implications

This study suggests that school programs with the goal of fostering proficient bilinguals must pay close attention to minority-language use in the communities that surround them. This finding raises new questions for research on DL schooling. Given the increasing rate of shift to English in many bilingual communities in the United States (Portes & Schauffler, 1994), there is a particular need for more studies in which the English-speaking/ majority-language group is comprised of Mexican-American/Spanish-heritage students. The present study found evidence that such learners draw on family language resources for assistance with homework and other school-related tasks. Consistent with calls for longitudinal studies of DL schooling (see Freeman, 1998; Moll & Gonzalez, 2000), it would be of interest to re-examine data from earlier studies to know if heritage learners of Spanish and other minority languages perform differently on measures of minority-language proficiency than do English-speaking peers without family and community access to linguistic funds of knowledge.

The study also underscores a need for further investigation on the role and use of minority languages in communities with DL programs and other forms of bilingual schooling. Mackey’s (1962/2000, p. 32) observation that “some parents will go to a lot of trouble and expense to send their children to school in another language” is attested in the waiting lists and lottery systems of student selection used by La Escuela and other DL programs. It would be interesting to know whether, for majority-language families, these efforts include seeking out contact with minority-language communities or local speakers to compensate for “missing” linguistic resources, or if they focus instead on communication with and emulation of elite, international speakers (Nocon, 1995). Also, in light of claims that DL instruction promotes crosscultural understanding (Lambert & Cazabon, 1994; Lindholm, 1992), more research needs to be conducted on the consequences of expanding school– initiated contact with minority-language speakers of diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. And, given the example of Sr. Verdugo, we may ask whether adult speakers in other minority-language communities cultivate relationships with DL programs as a means of resisting or slowing shift to English monolingualism.

Finally, this study has proposed adding a specifically linguistic dimension to the well-known notion of funds of knowledge for teaching. Like earlier work in this tradition, the intent here has been to make visible the types of knowledge held by minority-language families, and to show them as legitimate resources for inclusion in schooling. I have argued that the particulars of the present case are best understood by adopting such a theoretical stance. The usefulness of this contribution may be gauged in future studies of bilingual schooling involving other minority-language communities.


1 Based on the 2000 dissertation granted by the University of Arizona entitled, “Community as Resource for Minority Language Learning: A Case Study of Spanish– English Dual Language Schooling.” The dissertation committee was chaired by Drs. Luis Moll and Norma Gonzalez, with Drs. Adela Allen, Richard Ruiz, and Rudolph Troike as members. The research reported in this article was made possible in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation and in collaboration with colleagues conducting a longitudinal study of language ideology and biliteracy development at the University of Arizona. I am grateful to Virginia Gonzalez and the anonymous reviewers of the BRJ for helpful comments on previous drafts.

2 I use the term “dual language” (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000; Freeman, 1998; Valdes, 1997) to include programs described in the literature as “bilingual immersion,” “double immersion “two-way” bilingual education,” “two-way immersion” education, “culturally pluralistic program” and “reverse immersion.” There is general recognition that these terms refer to the same type of program (August & Hakuta, 1997; Ovando & Collier, 1998), in which children of two (or more) language groups are schooled together in both languages.

3 One question focused on the contributions of “Los Pioneros, “Rosita Cota, Adalberto Guerrero, Hank Oyama, and Maria Urquides, to DL schooling at La Escuela. In addition to their leadership in developing “Spanish-for-the-Spanish speaking” programs, forerunners of today’s DL and heritage learner efforts, each had first-hand experience with barrio schooling and La Escuela. Urquides taught there for twenty years and was remembered fondly in interviews by older residents of El Barrio. Oyama was her student there in the early 1930s. Between them, Guerrero and Oyama trained more than half of the DL teachers currently at La Escuela. Rosita Cota was especially prescient in her insistence that the future of bilingual education in the U.S. depended on the involvement of Anglo students, and her recognition of the importance of bilingualism as a goal for students of all linguistic backgrounds. Los Pioneros strongly supported the use of espanol universal [standard Spanish] as a tool for the academic and social advancement of Mexican American students, while rejecting the language prescriptivism and deficit perspectives that characterized early U.S. policy regarding bilingual education and minority-language students.

4 A second concern was documentation of the existing linguistic funds of knowledge surrounding the school. Like other areas of Tucson, El Barrio is characterized by Spanish language loss and simultaneous replenishment through continued immigration from Mexico. The neighborhood holds vital but diminishing minority-language resources concentrated primarily in fluent bilingual elders and recent immigrants, Spanish– dominant speakers primarily from Mexico. In contrast, the percentage of school-age Spanish speakers appears to be declining sharply. Interviews with residents and former students revealed lasting emotional and academic effects of forced Englishonly schooling, particularly in terms of proficiency in written and formal spoken registers of Spanish. Older residents expressed doubt about the appropriateness of use of Spanish (particularly local varieties) in school and with children generally. Barrio residents of all age groups identified closely with La Escuela, but not necessarily with bilingual schooling. Generally, residents without children or close relatives at the school were unaware of the nature of the DL program and present focus on Spanish acquisition for students of all language backgrounds.

5 “La Escuela” and “El Barrio” are pseudonyms, as are the names of children reported in the study.

6 Population figures are based on an average of year-end enrollment figures for the years 1995-96 through 1997-98.

7 Like many of its predecessors in Tucson’s Spanish language press, Aguila had a short publishing history. The first edition appeared in November 1997 and the last edition on December 16, 1999, leaving the city without a Spanish language weekly.

8 Such attitudes towards the Spanish spoken by Mexican Americans are by no means confined to the U.S. side of the border. Following a paper on heritage language learning by U.S. Chicanas studying Spanish in Mexico (McLaughlin, 2001), a teacher of Spanish as a second language in Puebla, Mexico asked about the best methods to “eradicar o sacar estos vicios verbales” [eradicate or get rid of these verbal vices] which, in her view, prevented students from learning standard Spanish.

9 Demand for access to DL schooling at La Escuela can be seen in numerous examples of parents registering newborn babies on the district’s waiting list. The study also found cases in which extended community parents listed street numbers of vacant lots in El Barrio as the family’s home address, in hope of guaranteeing assignment to the school.


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Patrick H. Smith

Universidad de las Americas-Puebla

Copyright National Association for Bilingual Education Summer 2001

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