Last week, I addressed the TESOL audience on how we connect people, families, and work in the 21st century. I started my session with a story from my childhood, growing up in a Spanish-speaking household and attending my local Head Start program. On my first day of school I noticed major cultural differences in my classroom. When I was asked what my name was, I included my middle name and mother's maiden name as is customary in my culture. But the teacher told me to "pick two" so I would fit in with the other students, and that's how I became known simply as Sylvia Acevedo. This was my first introduction to cultural norms that I would have to understand in order to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
I then told another story of how my family and cultural traditions have stayed with me throughout my life. My family celebrated Dia de los Muertos, the day on which we remember and honor family members who have passed away. This custom resurfaced in my life just weeks ago when my aunt (who lives alone) called and said, "we all watched you on your Today show segment." She had gathered photos of all our deceased family members for my 15 minutes of morning television fame!
Since people today know me as the Interim CEO of the Girl Scouts, I shared the story of how I got here. I reflected on my own days as a Girl Scout and the immeasurable impact they had on me. Coming from a family that lived from paycheck to paycheck, it was eye-opening to me that by selling Girl Scout cookies we could finance other activities for our troop to participate in. This was a key learning moment for me and a lesson I believe all young girls from every cultural background should learn.
It was during my business career that I came to understand the benefits of the multicultural capital that resulted from these life lessons. This concept came in handy during my Silicon Valley days when the head of sales was focusing on three major markets and I opted to focus on the "ROW" or "rest of the world," meaning Latin America and other emerging markets. Thanks to the confidence my multicultural background had afforded me, I saw an opportunity to expand the company's sales and marketing in those countries.
Why is multicultural capital so important to instill in our English learners? The reason is that great job opportunities now abound for non-English-speaking people, both in and outside of the U.S. This is why I believe it's so important for schools to encourage students to maintain their native languages and honor their native cultures in order to gain the competitive advantage of multicultural capital.
It's because of my school and career experiences that I was inspired to co-write the HMH Family Engagement program to support English learners and level the playing field for EL families who are learning to navigate the U.S. education system.
After my session, I joined HMH at their booth to meet teachers, administrators, and students over milk and Girl Scout cookies and share more about my background and involvement in EL education. One lucky Girl Scout who attended even walked away with my personalized Girl Scout patch!
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