Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D., Shares Hopes for English Learner Education as CEEL Turns 15

image of a woman standing on the bluff

In May, Loyola Marymount University leaders joined with members of the Los Angeles educational community to mark the 15th anniversary of the Center for Equity for English Learners (CEEL), an LMU School of Education-based research center and think tank offering programs, resources and professional development opportunities that promote equity, excellence and advocacy for multilingualism in preK-12 schools. At the event, Dr. Magaly Lavadenz, CEEL’s founding executive director, was named SOE’s second Leavey Endowed Professor of Moral and Ethical Leadership, succeeding Dr. Antonia Darder, a scholar and social justice activist who retired last year. In a conversation with SOE, Lavadenz reflected on CEEL’s impact and the work ahead in a state with more than 1 million English learners, as well as on the responsibility that comes with the prestigious endowed professorship.

When you reflect on CEEL’s 15 years, what makes you especially proud?

CEEL was formulated around a dream — to engage more deeply and more directly with our educator partners. I'm proud of what we've been able to do around research, policy and practice…but also how we've been able to do it. We have developed a series of policy briefs that serve as rapid and direct summaries, analyses, research results, and recommendations. These briefs get out quickly — much faster than a normal publication trajectory, which can take years. And CEEL’s partners have remained vital to this work. Our approach is not that we have all the knowledge, but that to create transformative change in our education systems, we have to work together and learn from each other. I’m also proud of the team we have at CEEL, which has enabled us to do our best work in these partnerships, always in ways that are culturally responsive.

Of course, there is much more to do. In the Latino culture, 15 represents a coming of age. In the years ahead, we look forward to continuing to build confidence in the work we do by meeting the needs of our partners in the region and state, as well as working with our collaborators to establish more of a national focus.

What has been the pandemic’s impact on English learners, and how has CEEL responded?

Multiple reports showed low English learner student participation rates with online learning. Bringing the classroom into the homes of children presented problems of access — to the Internet, and to devices. In addition, communities of color suffered the effects of the pandemic disproportionately. Many English learner families experienced stress over issues of housing and having food on their tables.

As a center, we tried to shine a light not just on what was not happening, but on some of the most effective practices educators were engaged in to support English learners during this time of crisis. We produced a series of resources that highlighted teacher voices from the field on how they were supporting students in learning, literacy, math, and just being present. Coupled with that, we compiled and curated resources on ways to connect with families. Our teacher partners, despite the fact that they were working so hard to prepare online lessons, made themselves available and helped us learn with them.

What are your hopes for English learner education in California and beyond?

English learners and their families have rich and robust assets, and we need to learn how to better bridge those so that they can be more successful, both in school and outside of school. We have to find ways to connect more meaningfully with families, not just in terms of telling them what they can do with their children, but also learning from what their success strategies are in the home. I wish our systems were better connected with each other. Teachers do vital ground-level work, but school leaders must also have a laser-like focus if they are going to create and implement policies and practices to support the needs of English learners in a system-wide, assets-based way.

I would also like to see the field’s research become more user-friendly. We have a lot of evidence on what we should be doing, but it's not always easily understandable to a lay audience, and sometimes researchers are only talking amongst themselves. And finally, we need English learner programs that not only help students become proficient in English, but maximize their human potential, allowing them to be fully bilingual and bicultural citizens in this country. Unfortunately, this country has had a deficit orientation around immigrants, and in many cases our treatment of them has been deplorable. 

What did it mean to you to become the second Leavey Presidential Chair in Ethics and Moral Leadership?

It's a huge honor that comes with great responsibility. To be an ethical and moral leader means using my voice and position to create greater spaces for equity for children, students, and families that have been marginalized in our society. We have systems that have created inequities that need to be addressed and dismantled. Our responsibility is not just to state what the problems are, but to provide solutions. Those solutions can’t come from any one person; it’s about engaging and collaborating as we all work toward a more just society.