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Taking inspiration from a U.S. coalition

Interview with Joy Peyton of the Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools

August 18, 2019

The Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools is a nationwide initiative in the U.S. that aims to connect heritage language schools across the country, to increase their visibility and recognition, and to document all of the schools. Do these goals sound familiar?


The Coalition has a core team created in 2013, including leader Joy Kreeft Peyton, PhD, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C. Joy has over 35 years of experience in linguistics and with the promotion of heritage languages. (See her full bio here.) She agreed to answer a few questions from HLSE about her experience running a coalition of heritage language schools. 


Are you a founding member of the Coalition of Community-Based Language Schools? How did your team of seven come together?

Yes, I am one of five founding members, and two people have joined us since then. The founding members (Sigrid Belluz, Ana Lucia Lico, Tommy Lu, Renate Ludanyi, and I) were at a conference in California hosted by the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC).


Since community-based schools often work in isolation – certainly separately from schools teaching other languages and often not even connecting with other schools teaching the same language – we decided that it was time to focus on these schools, which no one was doing, and we asked the NHLRC to join us in this initiative. They were excited, and agreed to this, and we have been collaborating ever since.


How did you first become interested in heritage language education?

I was working at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in the 1990s, and one of the topics that arose as critical, and little understood, was heritage language speakers in the U.S. and their language development. Joshua Fishman, in 1960, had identified nearly 2,000 schools teaching heritage languages in the U.S., and in 1980, over 6,000 schools. But what about after that? Who was focusing on this?


Donna Christian (then President of CAL) and I connected with Richard Brecht and Catherine Ingold, at the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), who were also interested in this topic and wrote a paper on Tapping a National Resource: Heritage Languages in the United States, which we published. We then collaborated with them to hold two conferences focused on heritage language education and published the book, Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource.


We also wanted to create a way for those working in the field to be able to learn, collaborate, and share information and resources, so we launched the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages. This was the basis for the work that I (with the Coalition) am doing now.

It’s my understanding that you are an informal organization – are there any downsides to this?

At this point, we are an informal organization, not an official foundation or a 501c3 (non-profit organization). There are downsides to this arrangement: We don’t have means for fund raising. We are all volunteers, and we don’t have funds to help the schools. We also don’t have official ways to connect with businesses, government organizations, and agencies. We may change this someday, but right now it isn’t in our plans.


How many programs participate in the coalition nationwide?

That is very difficult to say. At this point, we have Language Representatives for 26 languages. As of 2018, we had documented over 260 schools, teaching 36 languages. There are thousands of schools in the United States, teaching hundreds of languages. We are making progress, but we have a long way to go!

Your coalition organizes an annual conference each fall to discuss tools and strategies for running strong heritage language programs. Has there been a lot of interest from communities across the country?

The link above has links to all of the conferences held so far, in addition to information about this year’s conference (our fifth). Yes, we are seeing growing interest in the conference, with new people coming (from all over the U.S. and, this year, Canada), representing new languages, and having new roles in their communities.


This year we have six workshops, which the participants really enjoy – the opportunity to learn from and interact with leaders in the field on specific topics (including Differentiating Instruction, Project-Based Learning, and Building and Sustaining a High-Quality Program).


In Eindhoven we are setting up a network of heritage language schools on a smaller scale than what you have done, but the mission and aim appear to be the same. In your view, what are the key ingredients for a successful and fruitful working relationship between heritage language schools? What are the most effective strategies to make sure a city has healthy and strong heritage language programs?

The individuals who lead community-based heritage language schools are incredibly busy and often don’t have time to engage in a lot of extra activities. They also travel to their home countries. That is why our annual conference is only one day long.


These are the strategies that I think are key to building strong schools within a city or community:

  • Support the people (often parents) who start and run the schools.

  • Bring them together, face to face, at least once a year, to share and learn from each other.

  • Give them additional opportunities to share with each other, within and across languages, because they are succeeding in very different ways, and there is a lot to learn.

  • Encourage them to work with national/larger organizations focused on their language as well as larger language organizations.

  • Seek ways that students in the schools will stay engaged and be motivated to continue to learn the language (in the U.S., examples would be: summer camps, Seal of Biliteracy, Global Seal, or college credit)


The coalition’s mission is to help improve the situation with community-based heritage language schools in the U.S., to make them stronger and more visible. Do you believe that the coalition is succeeding in this, and how do you measure this?

Yes, we believe that we have started to meet our goals. We are bringing together leaders in schools across the country at our annual conference and through our web site and Facebook page. We work with a group of committed Language Representatives, who reach out to and engage their language communities. We are making progress in documenting community-based schools.


We are now starting to embark on some new initiatives, to build the knowledge base of school leaders and build in benefits for students of learning their heritage language. The focus is on instructional strategies for project-based learning; collaborations with public and private schools and national organizations to help students earn the Seal of Biliteracy and the Global Seal; and an online discussion board, where language communities can discuss their challenges, initiatives, and successes. 

For more information about the Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools in the U.S., visit their website.