On May 10, the fourth annual meeting of the Aprendiendo Juntos Council took place at Northwestern University. The Aprendiendo Juntos Council brings together researchers, practitioners, media producers, and educators in an effort to form a united coalition to advance learning in Hispanic and Latino families. Returning participants were excited to reunite in person and to welcome several new professionals who brought great energy to the already passionate group. These new participants included Mariana Souto-Manning of Teachers College at Columbia University, Alejandro Villanueva of the Televisa Foundation, Sandhya Nankani of Literary Safari and Diversity in Apps, Liz Pisney of LEAP Innovations, Diane Rodriguez of Fordham University, and Maria Alvarez of Common Sense Media.
Dr. Souto-Manning, an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Teachers College, kicked off the meeting with a few highlights from books she has authored and co-authored in recent years. Her most recent book, Multicultural teaching in the early childhood classroom: Strategies, tools, and approaches, Preschool-2nd grade (2013), shows the various ways in which teachers can engage in multicultural education practices. The council discussed how important it is to make children’s education more inclusive and how it impacts their identity development. She is passionate about equitable education, as well as social, cultural, and linguistic justice, making her a valuable addition to the Council’s efforts.
Alejandro Villanueva brought a new voice to the Council through his work as the Executive Director of the Televisa Foundation. In terms of early childhood education, the Televisa Foundation is doing work along with the Bezos Family Foundation to educate families in the United States and Mexico on the importance of education in the first three years of life. In the bilingual education space, the Foundation has created free apps for children to learn both Spanish and English, and has even expanded to create apps for Portuguese, math, and coding. Televisa Foundation has also launched an initiative called Tecnolochicas, which encourages STEAM education and is designed to encouraged awareness among Latina girls and their families about possible careers in technology. Council members were fascinated by the projects, and posed several questions and comments about dissemination efforts to parents and teachers and the impact of generational differences on the reception of the Technolochicas program. Mr. Villanueva said that the Foundation is making great efforts to reach both children and parents, addressing potential generational differences such as language and literacy with technology.
As one of the few people of color in a publishing house, Sandhya Nankani wondered how she could bring multicultural material to children in meaningful ways. She started Literary Safari, an independent content production and curation company that is committed to projects that promote literacy while celebrating diversity and multicultural literature. One of Literary Safari’s apps, Dentist Bird, is an interactive book app based on a Liberian folktale. Its second app, Hang Art, allows children to create digital stories with diverse characters. In addition, she and Kabir Seth of Storied Myth co-founded a grassroots group called Diversity in Apps, which raises awareness for the need for diverse and equitable content in the apps space and other children’s media spaces. The group is currently creating a Diverse & Inclusive Growth (DIG) toolkit for designers and producers to set developmental milestones throughout the design process to ensure truly inclusive and thoughtfully designed content. Council members were especially eager to hear more about Literary Safari’s upcoming app to be released in the fall, as well as the Diversity in Apps toolkit for designers.
Liz Pisney, senior director of the Chicago-based nonprofit LEAP Innovations, presented on the organization’s efforts to cultivate innovative practices in the classroom through personalized learning technologies. When it comes to integrating learning technologies, LEAP Innovations focuses not only on teachers, but the entire stakeholder ecosystem including ed tech companies, investors, and schools. They offer support through professional development workshops, “office hours” for tech companies looking for advice, and philanthropy roundtables. In all of its efforts LEAP is learner-focused, aiming to cultivate practices that connect learners outside of the classroom, address individual needs and strengths, and allow learners to take ownership of their progress.
Dr. Diane Rodriguez, Associate Professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, engaged Council participants in a discussion on the intersection between bilingual and special education. Through her work, Dr. Rodriguez aims to provide insight into the diverse nature of special education, and to highlight the the distinction between language disorders and language difference. Council members enjoyed her video observation of a dual language special education program in Manhattan. The video, below, was a great demonstration of a positive classroom environment with multiple languages and learning styles.
Finally, Maria Alvarez, Director of Latino Content and Outreach at Common Sense Media, introduced Common Sense Latino, which was launched in 2015 to provide original and translated content for families. Editorial content for this initiative is based on themes such as family (i.e., education), language (i.e., raising bilingual children), and culture (e.g., music, food, sports). The site has much success already, but they hope to continue to grow their community presence through education fairs, community partnerships, and support from school districts with largely Latino populations.
Convening participants raved about the new knowledge and expertise brought to the Council this year, as well as the importance of coming together with people who, though in different fields, possess the same mission of advancing and enhancing the education and well being of Hispanic and Latino families. In addition to the new member presentations, Council participants talked about future research collaborations, strategy, and dissemination efforts. Many left the meeting feeling inspired, encouraged, and ready to take action together.