Published July 21, 2022 by Tom Porter

Twenty-Nine K-12 Educators Attend Multilingual Learning Institute at Bowdoin and Bates

"From beginning to end, our two weeks together building a cohesive community around identity and multilingualism was beautiful, meaningful, and invigorating,” said Kelly Pearce from New Mexico.

mboyle and teachers
Margaret Boyle (standing) with some of the visiting educators at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Pearce is the federal programs curriculum and instruction coordinator at Rio Rancho Public Schools, where she supports English language development coordinators and teachers of world languages in her district, which is just outside Albuquerque. She was among twenty-nine educators attending the “Identity and Multilingualism through Picture Books” summer institute held earlier this month.

Funded by a $175,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, the project aims to enrich early elementary curricula by exploring the use of picture books to enhance the development of second-language learning and identity formation. The institute was led jointly by Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Director of Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Margaret Boyle of Bowdoin College and her Bobcat colleague Krista Aronson, who is professor of psychology and associate dean of faculty at Bates College.

The work is a partnership between Boyle’s program Multilingual Mainers—established five years ago as a partnership between Bowdoin undergraduates and PreK-2 students and families in the local community of Brunswick, Maine, and Aronson’s program Diverse Book Finder—a comprehensive collection of children's picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC).

The first half of the two-week event was held online, while the second week involved in-person activities on the campuses of Bates and Bowdoin. “We explored how picture books support work in multilingualism, identity, second language acquisition, and cultural knowledge, bringing together a cohort of passionate educators from Maine to Hawaii,” said Boyle. “The range of home languages in our teacher classrooms was proof of the vibrancy of multilingualism across the US.”

One highlight, said Boyle, was a conversation with the celebrated author and illustrator Raúl the III—creator of the World of Vamos book series—about Mexican American representation in children’s literature via language and illustration.

vamos book series
Raúl the III—creator of the World of Vamos book series—was among the guest contributors at the institute

Another highlight, said participant Rebecca Pogue, was visiting the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, learning from the museum staff, and viewing artwork that highlighted multilingualism. “As a theater educator, I am always interested in exploring the connections between art and language, and I look forward to incorporating these strategies into my classroom in the upcoming school year,” said Pogue, who is head of elementary school programs at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We built a community over our two weeks together at Bates and Bowdoin,” said Boyle, “and I’m confident that we will remain connected as we build programs in our local communities. I’m especially moved by the way the NEH institute affirmed the connections between university research and K-12 instruction,” she added, “and am excited about the possibilities for more collaborative and public-facing work.”

Student Involvement

Multilingual Mainers recently celebrated a record-breaking year for student involvement. The program works with elementary school children and relies on a team of multilingual volunteers, some of them Brunswick community members and some Bowdoin undergraduates and recent alumni.

Emily Pan ’22: “I first became involved with Multilingual Mainers in the fall of 2020 through Professor Boyle’s interdisciplinary course, Teaching and Learning Languages. Here I had the opportunity to design and implement a ten-week series of video lessons for teaching Spanish to kindergartners at Kate Furbish Elementary School in Brunswick. Watching my students’ eyes light up during discussions on language, culture, and identity has shown me the joy and value of using language education as a means of cultivating tolerance and cultural awareness in young learners.”

Isabella Huang ’25:Multilingual Mainers is a wonderful program that makes a grounded and meaningful effort to create a more culturally aware, integrated, and welcoming community. It's incredibly gratifying for me to be able to contribute and feel like a part of this change. It's also just refreshing to be with the children at Kate Furbish during the school year and see their passion and interest in the languages and cultures we brought in.”

Media spotlight: Katharine Barrett ’23 is a student coordinator with the Multilingual Mainers program. She recently published this op-ed in the Portland Press Herald: Maine Voices: World language reading in K-12 has wide-ranging benefits. Barrett was a student in Boyle’s Multilingual Mainers course last spring and will work on an honors project in Hispanic Studies next year.