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131. The Power of Dual Language Learning: Wil Foor's Journey as a Multilingual Educator
Episode 13114th June 2024 • Equipping ELLs • Beth Vaucher, ELL, ESL Teachers
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Welcome to our series on inspiring stories of language learning from real ELLs!

In this episode of Equipping ELLs, host Beth Vaucher interviews Wilmede (Wil) Foor, a bilingual educator with a rich background in both Creole and English. Wil was born in Miami shortly after her parents moved from Haiti. Wil shares her inspiring journey, detailing her experience navigating the complexities of language and culture alongside her parents. As an educator, Wil discusses the importance of embracing diversity in the classroom and shares valuable insights on supporting English Language Learners who are navigating between different languages and cultures. With warmth and empathy, Wil highlights the significance of creating a safe and inclusive space where students can thrive while honoring their cultural heritage. From language learning strategies to cultural connections, this episode offers practical advice from Wil's unique perspective as a bilingual educator.

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Wilmide Foor

Hi, beth. Thank you for having me.

Beth Vaucher

Absolutely. I just love highlighting stories and just allowing people to use this space to share what their upbringing was like, what their experiences are in education and what you're doing today. And insights you have that you can share with our listeners. So I'm Super excited to have you here. Let's just start right at the beginning. Why don't you share a little bit about your background, your upbringing, kind of what your life was like, growing up.

Wilmide Foor

Yeah, sure. So I grew up in Miami, Florida. Both my parents were they came from haiti, and they were here maybe a year before they had me. They didn't know each other. They met each other here in the US and Miami. And then they had me. And then.

Just thinking about the language that we spoke at home. It was mostly creole because they weren't here very long. And then they got jobs. And of course, they want to learn the English language. And I needed to learn the English language as well. That was just something that I think that. We did together. Learning the language so in my home. Mostly I want to say maybe it was kind of half and half, but I want to say mostly we spoke English just so that my parents could actually learn the language in the beginning.

We tried just being able to navigate the language so that they can get better at their jobs and doing things. And then for me in school. That was what we were speaking. So I was fully immersed in that. And I was lucky to have that. And then as time went on, I think as I got older, we started to add more creole. At least my parents say that's often school pre all to themselves. But I think they wanted to practice their English language with me. And so we did practice did a lot more. In English with me and my younger brother.

Beth Vaucher

Awesome. I love that. Now, did you ever lose creole, or have you been able to keep that up over the years.

Wilmide Foor

So we went to Haiti, where we used to go to Haiti. Every year. And my grandparents so on my mom's side and Yeah. I was fully immersed in that creole language when we were there for sure. So for those times, yeah, I think I kept up with it. And then after my grandparents passed away and we stopped going to haiti, I didn't really have the person to really practice with. I mean, I could talk to my mom dad, but. It wasn't the same as everywhere I went in haiti because we went for like three months. It was after ended for the summer months. We were there and I was able to speak the language that was the only way to communicate. There was no one speaking English with me then. So, yeah, I definitely had it until my grandparents passed away. So probably high school. And then just not using it as much. And not seeing it spelled out because I used to go to a haitian Church, too, and I used to be able to read the words. And so even just going back and looking at some of the dictionary things that I was working on to translate, I was like, yeah, how do you say that. So it was just a couple of things. So I want to say yes and no. But just jumping back into it. Just with my parents. Even this weekend, we were able to hang out with my uncle, who has a haitian Church in Orlando, and they just celebrated, like, an anniversary. And so that was just nice to be like, oh, I'm working on this project and look at all these words. It was just all nice coming together.

Beth Vaucher

That's very cool. And I think that's a very common story of just this. Struggle of the in between of wanting to acclimate to English and being for your parents wanting to really work on their English and improve that so they could do better and work well in their jobs. But also not wanting to lose their native language and losing their culture. And so I think your story is something that many can relate to, of just that in between of going back to haiti and for you that was just going to a new country, since that's not where you were born. So you probably relate to the American culture, maybe a little bit more. But going back to haiti, and then having that cultural experience, it's very different from. Your life during the school year. I know living here, I live in panama City. And so when we travel to the States, just kind of feel a little bit like an outsider, even though I'm American. When I go back home, I feel like an outsider because people are like, oh, you live where what do you do. Kind of just questions up about our lives. And here I'd not Latin. So I feel like an outsider here. And so it's kind of just something that's this constant wrestle. I don't know if you've experienced that because I know a lot of the students in the classes today are experiencing the same thing of just kind of this living in this in between. Where they go home and they're hearing one language. And they're eating food. That is typical. In their home culture. And then they go to school. And they have something that's very different. So what would you say, will about how do teachers help support those students who are living in this in between kind of our especially those younger students who are processing all that's happening, all these different languages and cultures that are happening around them and try to find kind of their identity. In the mix of it all. What would you say to that.

Wilmide Foor

Oh Yeah. Like you said. Very hard. But just for the teachers, just be aware that it is different. They're not getting the same things that we get when we go home. So as I think about my kids. I want them fully immersed in both languages. But I'm not giving it to them because. It'd just be me talking to myself because my husband doesn't speak creole either. So for them. When their grandparents are here, they're able to speak creole with them just a little bit, just a hint of it. But I know that they're not getting that in school. So as I think about those kids. That are in school, that are in the in between and are living two different lives, really. Just to be like condescent, just for the teachers to just be mindful of what's actually happening. At home and what's actually happening in school, because. They might go home and not even have that parent trying to speak English with them. So they might only get the English language in school. And that would be like just. Something hard for them to process because they're thinking about their native language in their heads versus. What's actually. Being. Instead of what's actually happening when they are in school, which is the English language. So I just say just be mindful of it and just keep it even if it's just keep it in mind. Just in the back of your mind. As we're getting these students in because. They just need someone to be there with them as they're processing it so they don't feel like they're alone.

Beth Vaucher

Absolutely. Yeah. Because your situation is a little bit different of your parents, also wanting to practice. You kind of made it something as a family that you worked on together, which is a really cool thing. But some of the students that are in our classes today, they kind of have to switch. On and off, which is a lot for student to do. And now they enter their house and they switch on their other language and it's really an incredible gift and superpower that they have. But I think yeah, you're exactly right. Just being mindful of. What our students are going through that they have just these. Multiple languages that are flowing around them, these different cultures that they're kind of entering in and out of. And so how can we create that safe space in the classroom where we just have that in the back of our mind, that. These students might be going through a lot or just need some time to process all that's happening, especially if they've recently arrived. Now let's move into you have an education background in each hot in Florida for a while. So how do you feel? Like. Your experience and just seeing the different cultures of when you'd go to visit haiti in the summer and then you were in the US the rest of the year. How did all of that really help you as a teacher.

Wilmide Foor

For. Traveling during those times. It was just I'm going to use the word eye opening again, just because the culture and everything when we were in haiti was so different from here. Everything we did, the things that we take for granted here, that we didn't have in Haiti. If I'm thirsty now, I could just go get a cup of water. But if I was in haiti and I was thirsty, I couldn't just go get that cup of water. There was specific water that I had to drink. Or otherwise I would get sick or the rest of us would get sick if we had it. So just thinking about those things and how we live here. For those families.

It's kind of like. We've already stated. It's just so different. And you're saying and you were asking about. The kids also coming from cultures coming here.

Beth Vaucher

I'm sorry. Yeah. So just how do you. When you were teaching in the classroom, how did you really create that safe space? Create that space where you kind of gave your students that space to process. And to just kind of engage in the life that they were living, that might have been really different from what they had come from previously.

Wilmide Foor

Okay. Yes. Okay.

Beth Vaucher

Thanks.

Wilmide Foor

No problem. So if I ask a question or if I needed to restate something just so that. They have the time to process what I said for sure. I made sure to incorporate that. And. As for. Just specific students. I was able to help them because the last time that I was in the school system. I had a student from Puerto rico, and she came because of the there was like a tornado. Or I think it was a tornado or Hurricane. Something happened in Puerto rico Maybe

2010. And so when she came into my classroom and she didn't know any English. And I didn't know any Spanish. And so. I was definitely patient with her. And I was able to restate things with her and able to help her and send home some resources for the parents as well so that she was able to become acclimated with what we're doing here. In the States. And the first couple of weeks was hard. But I remember that before she left, which was because they were only here because of the devastation that happened in their country. And then they left before she left. She was speaking like English words. And she was testing.

It was like, Wow. And it kind of hit me that I had these kids in my class for a while. They were here. They were born in the US, and they weren't able to get the grades that she was getting. And here she was from Puerto rico, not speaking. English, and she made so much gains in such a short time. And I think it's because I was able to pour into her and her family and I kept in communication with them even if I needed to get things translated into Spanish. So I could help her. And that's just one instance that I was thinking.

Beth Vaucher

I love that. And I can tell your personality is so warm that she probably just felt so comfortable. And just excited to be in your classroom, which is really important now. You went on then and. You got a degree in educational leadership. So we know there's. A lot of issues in the US education system these days.

So well, tell us when you went on then to study educational leadership and kind of just see the change that can happen in education. What was your experience like with that.

Wilmide Foor

So Yes. As a teacher, I was like, Wow. There were things that were happening in the school district that I was like. If I were in charge, if I was a leadership, I would be able to fix or mend these changes or not make the mistakes that I thought that my principals were making. And so I went in. I got the degree. And I was ready to start. And. Something actually happened in my district where they just stopped taking. Principals, assistant principals. They just stopped. There was a pool, and it just stopped. And I was like, okay, well, I got this degree I'm not able to do anything with right now. That's fine. But my principals were pouring into me because they knew that I wanted to be in leadership. And so they were like, okay, why don't you do this and do that? And we had meetings together. Every time they had something going. On. They included me. And I was like, okay, this is great. This is a great opportunity. And then during this opportunity, I realized that they really didn't have as much autonomy over things that I thought that they had the things that I wanted changed. Within the classroom with. Teachers, students, just everything. And they just didn't have that power. Yeah, I did get the degree. And do anything with the degree right now.

Luckily, they put me in a position where I could see it before I got in. Because. I don't want to feel helpless in a state, and I feel like. They might actually just be helpless because they're taking orders from the top down. And that is part education. And that's why I think things are the way they are.

Beth Vaucher

Yeah.

And I think that that's a really important point that I'm glad you highlighted is sometimes we pin things against the administrators. Or we see things and we think like, this is such an easy thing to fix. I know. I say this all the time. This is such an easy thing to fix. Why are we fixing it? But it's good to have an insight. There's a lot more that's going on. And a lot of times their hands are tied as well. Even the administrators who want to do something to create a better school environment for the students. But that does encourage our teachers that you really are the ones that are making the impact right with the students and where it matters and with the families. So know how important your role is in the students lives. And regardless of what's happening outside your door, you can still make a really big impact in those students lives. Whether as Will was saying, just the student who came for a brief period of time. But you got to really make a difference or for those students who are here. This is their home and this is their country. And so what an awesome opportunity. And so I think just thinking about your story a little bit. Will some things that were highlighted, I think with your family work together to learn the language, which is really helpful. I think it sounds like you had a lot of good connections to community of different haitian churches, like you're saying. And so you could kind of keep up the language. So I think that's important as teachers, too, that we find different ways that our new families can maybe connect with. Organizations that are happening or other people who might speak their home language so that the students can keep up their native language. Parents can keep up their native language and they find that right. In the United States, this is really awesome. So before we head out today, why don't you share with us any advice that you have for teachers who are working with English Language learners?

Wilmide Foor

Yeah, sure. So another project also being in the school that I thought was really good is we did like a tour of the different countries. And our kids got. To actually focus in and share with us everybody else. Their country, just some highlights of their country. And I just thought that was great because you could see their passion in their eyes when they were able to go home, take what they have from home and bring it into the school. And we were able to share and be part of it. And some people even brought. Like little samples for us to taste and

And it was just so good that we were able to. Just be able to exchange those two things, just their country in our country and put it all together and kind of let them know that kind of create that culture. We want to know more about you. We care about you. And we want you to thrive while we're here.

Beth Vaucher

Absolutely. And I think that that's a great connection to those students who are living in this in between. And helping them not have to turn off one culture to enter the school. But so that they can bring that culture in or giving them opportunities to use their native language in the classroom so that they don't feel like they have to turn something off to enter the school, I think is really important. Well, Will, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it you sharing your story with us. I know it's so encouraging for our listeners to just hear stories of people who grew up with parents who speak a different language or from different country. And then how you adjusted. I mean, you're American, but just how you handled that. In between living of having one language at home. And I'm glad to hear you kept up your creole because. The saddest thing is when people lose the native language or the language the parents speak just because they're trying to only speak English. So I'm glad to hear you're keeping that up. And Will's helping us. With a picture dictionary translation for in creole. So if you have some haitian students that might be really helpful to you. All right, well, thank you so much for joining me today.

Wilmide Foor

Thank you for having me.

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