Bilingualism and Special Needs
TC’s Bilingual/Bicultural Education program prepares its students to work with linguistically and culturally diverse populations. As a visiting faculty member in that program, Dr. Patricia Martinez Alvarez brings a wealth of firsthand experience to the table. Originally from Spain where she taught students in English/Spanish bilingual programs, Dr. Martinez Alvarez then came to the States to teach science, math, and language arts to students with special needs in Spanish/English bilingual programs. This background enables her to share with her students the fundamentals in understanding bilingual students with special needs.
Having come most recently from George Mason University where she taught Bilingualism and Language Acquisition Research, at TC Dr. Martinez Alvarez has added Cross-cultural Communication and Classroom Ecology, Foundations of Bilingual Education, and Bilingualism and Disabilities to her teaching repertoire. These courses examine the complexities involved in differentiating between students who are going through the language acquisition process and those who might have a disability. It is her belief that, “We must consider the abilities of emergent bilinguals holistically, so that we stop misidentifying students and placing them in special education programs.”
The overrepresentation of students who come from minority languages in special education programs is an issue Dr. Martinez Alvarez is passionate about. How can our educational system accurately diagnose the source of a student’s academic struggles when working with emergent bilingual students? “We’re looking at how to best assess those needs, but also making education more integrative of all students: looking at the whole person and providing access to all those who might be different. It is about providing quality schooling experiences that meet the cognitive, emotional, and linguistic needs of all learners.”
Because the courses offered in Bilingual/Bicultural Education are applicable to educators across levels and contexts, many students outside of the program take classes such as the ones Dr. Martinez Alvarez teaches, which she enjoys. “It’s nice to get students from other programs because they bring in different perspectives and help the group engage in deeper conversations.”
Looking forward, Dr. Martinez Alvarez aims to develop educational interventions that can meet the needs of all students cognitively and linguistically. Her dedication to researching and analyzing how best to serve bilingual and special needs children is evident in the work she does each and every day, and in the TC students she inspires.