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Dual Language Leaders

Jessica Fong (MA Dual Language Teacher Leadership, ’18)

by Grace Heimerl (MS Integrated Marketing Communications, ’19)

Now more than ever, childhood education needs both innovation and inclusion to meet diverse student needs.

Jessica Fong (MA DLTL, ’18) belongs to the first cohort of Roosevelt University’s dual language principal pathway. She aspires to be an administrator that leads her community with a love of dual language education and nature-based play.

“We’re in an English-dominant community and country. One of the things I do in the classroom and at home is always talk about how great it is to speak two languages,” said Fong.

Dual language in the community

The daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, Fong knows intimately the importance of a bilingual education. “I grew up in the sink-or-swim era. There wasn’t really any support,” she said. “It’s really important for me to work with young children who are heritage speakers and to provide them with the opportunity to get their culture and language back.”

As a mother, she’s also seen firsthand the benefits of dual language education. Now almost nine, her son can confidently switch between languages.

“My husband and I are both Latino, so we’re making a commitment to each other and our son to speak Spanish at home, even though we’re more comfortable with English,” said Fong. “My son’s Spanish and English are better than mine!”

Jessica Fong

Jessica Fong

Jessica Fong

“It’s really important for me to work with young children who are heritage speakers and to provide them with the opportunity to get their culture and language back.”

—Jessica Fong (MA DLTL, ’18)

Fong teaches at the Velma Thomas Early Education Center in McKinley Park, the neighborhood where she lives and hopes to lead as an administrator. She helped launch dual-language programs at both her current school and her previous institution.

“When administrators have the same background as families, you can approach changes to rules in a culturally sensitive way,” said Fong. “We can empower children to make connections with their communities through speaking two languages.”

Becoming a leader

After a decade in the classroom, Fong came to Roosevelt for the Dual Language Teacher Leadership (DLTL) master’s program. She hopes to build on her experience and community knowledge to shape more inclusive spaces for her students.

“To be really effective, an administrator needs to understand what the teacher goes through on a daily basis, minute to minute,” Fong said. “What are the struggles? What are the challenges? To come with that first-person perspective is powerful.”

One of the first programs of its kind in the nation, the DLTL program helps students develop as effective dual language teachers, while also preparing them to assume leadership roles in their schools. “This is critical, because without program support of leaders and administrators who understand the nuances of dual language education, even the best programs deteriorate,” said Tammy Oberg de la Garza, director of the DLTL program.

De la Garza encouraged Fong and her classmates to create a sense of communal knowledge, something that Fong hopes future cohorts experience as well.

“I think the biggest piece was creating that dual language community among ourselves,” said Fong. “At the end, we were like a family.”

“I think the biggest piece was creating that dual language community among ourselves. At the end, we were like a family.”

—Jessica Fong
(MA DLTL, ’18)

Prepared for success

After graduating from Roosevelt, Fong was accepted into the newly minted principal pathway for dual language educators. The eight-month-long program blends independent internships and course work to prepare teachers for principal licensure tests.

“The internship is very rigorous, very authentic and specifically prescribed by the state,” said program director Roger Chamberlain. The new venture is geared to fit the needs of Chicago Public Schools, filling their shortage of administrators.

For the other master’s programs at the Schaumburg Campus, the principal pathway is already a proven success. Three cohorts have already placed 20 graduates in school leadership roles. One of Fong’s classmates, Rose Corona, has already been hired as an assistant principal upon completing the program.

To Fong, representation is a matter of social justice. “The workforce is predominantly women of color, but that’s not yet reflected in administration,” said Fong. “Only 17% of administrators are people of color. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Fong says that the self-directed nature of the principal pathway program has sharpened her leadership skills — and luckily, she has her DLTL cohort as a resource. She acknowledges it takes hard work and careful balancing, but continuing her studies at Roosevelt was well worth it.

“When you’re in the middle of a graduate program and trying to be a teacher, it can seem overwhelming,” said Fong. “But at the end of the program, you’re so much better for it. Visualize what it’s going to look like when you’re done with the degree. How much better of a professional will you be?”