Javier grew up in Orlando and Miami with his Puerto Rican and Cuban family. When he was a young boy, he moved with his mother to Puerto Rico, “and that's where my bilingual education really started.” Javier says his grandparents took care of him, “so Spanish was technically my first language, because that's what was spoken at home with them.” He attended kindergarten, first and half of second grade on the island, then moved back to Florida, where his schooling was in English. But his dual-language foundation was set.
“Florida in the 80s and 90s was not quite the Latino melting pot that it is today,” he recalls. “So we had some racism issues, growing up in the South.” He put away the Spanish he had learned as a little boy, but picked it up again in high school. “It all sort of came flooding back,” he says. It helped that he some Spanish courses in college, but he wishes he had studied and spoken the language more consistently.
These days, Javier and his wife Rachael live in Los Angeles with their two children. He’s an attorney for Southern California Edison. She works for the business affairs department at Amazon Studios. She grew up in Oregon and spoke some French. They wanted their kids Jasper and Mateo to be bilingual, too.
“Even before we had children, it was one of the conversations that we had,” says Javier. “Being bilingual was such an important part of me. And I was like, you know, I have family that still lives on the island. I want my children to be able to communicate with them and to have part of that experience. So even before we had kids as a couple, we had talked about like, where is it that we could raise family? And that led us to just to looking into bilingual education and doing the right thing.”
Javier says his grandparents were getting older, and spoke less and less English. He says it was important for Rachael and the children to meet and speak to them in Spanish.
Being able to give Jasper and Mateo a bilingual education was also crucial. “It played a big role in ultimately us even deciding to stay in Los Angeles, because for all of the diversity offered in Florida, bilingual education like this is not something you find. California has more of it, I think, because of it being California.”
The public schools in Los Angeles and Culver City are well regarded for their dual language programs, says Javier, who says he and Rachel were happy to enroll Jasper and Mateo to learn in Spanish and English. “From day one, it was not even a question.”
Jasper, who is eight years old, has been a student at Grandview Elementary’s bilingual classes since she was in kindergarten. Mateo, who’s four and a half, began there in the Fall. They’ve also been coming to EDS My Classroom for tutoring, summer and afterschool programs.
“My goal for the for the kids is true biliteracy, reading and writing in both languages.” says Javier, “not just sort of speaking bilingually. So it's been really interesting and it's been challenging but it's been fun.”
He says with Jasper and Mateo, he also been increasing his Spanish vocabulary and learning too. “You know, I never learned about the dinosaurs or the creation of Earth in Spanish. I learned them in English. But now I can talk about the Cretaceous period and lava formation and solar, wind and energy. Jasper is learning these things in second grade in Spanish.” During Black History Month, she was reading in Spanish "about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, the Selma bridge, the riots, segregation. And she's talking to me about these issues that I know very well in English.”
Javier says EDS is supporting Jasper at her school, helping her to become more literate in Spanish. Ms. Anna and other teachers at EDS help her work on sight words and make sure she’s on target with reading in both Spanish and English. "Jasper works on speaking in Spanish on a more academic, advanced level," says Ms. Ana. "We want her to express herself like a native speaker."
“EDS is helping us support that fluency,” Javier says.
Being at EDS has also been a safe environment for Mateo. “He's getting a lot of the social and the emotional, the educational support that he needs,” says Javier. This summer, Mateo will be getting a sort of kindergarten “boot camp” at EDS, preparing him for Grandview next Fall. Ms. Ana says he'll work on his early literacy skills, penmanship, reading foundation, and math.
Javier says that goal of Jasper and Mateo being biliterate is important for their future “so that they can have the opportunities in front of them, whether it's college or work or life. It’s not just like, oh, yeah, I can go to Puerto Rico or Mexico or Costa Rica or whatever, and I can order a beer and ask for the bathroom and get some food and rent a car. No, it's: I can go and have a conversation substantively about the economy or politics… not just something tourism-based. I can pick up the newspaper and see what's happening.”
For Javier, Rachael, Jasper and Mateo, being bilingual and biliterate is por vida. For life.
"What's beautiful about this family," says Ms. Ana, "is they are very committed to bilingual education. You can see that, for example, they are always checking the quality of the work the kids are doing. Even better, they are the sweetest, the most positive, and they have a great sense of humor. So it's always lovely to see them all."