Supporting Multilingual Education in Illinois

Administration November 2023 PREMIUM

In the Midwest, particularly in Illinois, there has been a growing Latino immigrant population, which has prompted the state to implement bilingual policies to support their educational needs. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education has created the Bilingual-Bicultural program to address these needs and promote an asset-based approach to teaching and learning within linguistically diverse communities.

Over the last few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of Latinx immigrants in the Midwest. Thus, considerable efforts at the state and local levels have been made to address the academic and linguistic needs of this student population. In states like Illinois, however, there is a history of strong bilingual policies since the 1970’s. Illinois school districts are required by law to offer bilingual education programs whenever 20 or more students of limited-English fluency are enrolled in one school. Through these policies, the state seeks to ensure equity in education and language acquisition opportunities for all students in educational settings. In addition to these efforts, Illinois was the first state in the Midwest region to promote statewide bilingual policies for pre-K instruction. 

Illinois policy mandated that early childhood educators with 20 or more English language learners (ELLs) having the same “language background in their classroom or center obtain the ESL endorsement by 2016. Initially, the deadline was 2014, but the state extended it due to the lack of credentialed educators.” This state mandate had a ripple effect of forewarning “elementary and secondary teachers to the importance of pursuing the endorsement in preparation for similar regulations for K-12 educators in the future” (Oberg De La Garza et al., 2015, p. 369). Hence, having programs at the university level that can help school districts to comply with state mandated policies, and contribute to improving the well-being of the communities within the state, is one of our primary goals. 

The Birth of The Bilingual-Bicultural Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

To meet the growing needs of the diverse communities in the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education created the Bilingual-Bicultural (BLBC) Concentration and Bilingual and/or ESL Endorsement. These pathways allow us to center education discussions on bi/multilingual teaching and learning needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities. We address issues related to the sociocultural and political contexts in which language and language learning are situated. One of the program’s goals is to disrupt the deficit ideologies about minoritized bi/multilingual communities and instead work from asset-based frameworks that position bi/multilingualism as a strength in teaching and learning. As such, we work to support our students in developing critical perspectives and pedagogies of education that recognize the rich practices of language, literacy, and knowledge creation that exist in historically minoritized communities that are often overlooked in K-12 classrooms. 

BLBC Leadership

The BLBC program is led by three Latina faculty members, Drs. Idalia Nuñez, Giselle Martinez Negrette, and Mónica González Ybarra, who draw on their own educational experiences as bilinguals to guide their teaching in the program. Dr. Nuñez grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border dividing Texas and Tamaulipas—a transfronteriza student who experienced education in the borderlands. This experience, as well as her work as a bilingual elementary teacher, prompted her interest in studying the everyday cultural and linguistic practices and knowledge of Latinx communities and how those can be leveraged for learning. Dr. Martinez Negrette was raised in Colombia, South America and has taught in multilingual classrooms all over the world, including different regions of Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. She is an expert in dual language education and the sociopolitical ideologies that manifest within these classrooms. Dr. González Ybarra attended schools in predominantly white suburban communities within the Midwest, where her cultural and linguistic identity was often silenced. Her research focuses on the knowledge, teaching, and learning practices within Latinx communities and how bilingual Latinx youth and educators draw on them to engage sociopolitical discussions and action. 

These personal experiences and professional expertise have contributed to the growth of the BLBC pathway and training that future bilingual educators receive at UIUC. As the number of Latinx faculty at predominately white institutions continues to be low, most students on our campus have not had the opportunity to take courses from Latinx faculty until they enroll in our program. For many Latinx students pursuing an ESL/bilingual endorsement, this experience is paramount in how they view their own bi/multilingualism and how their culture, identity, and educational experiences fit within the broader curriculum around language education. The leadership within the BLBC program reflects generations of Latinx communities who have fought for multilingual education and the need for the experiences of minoritized communities to be at the center of projects in educational equity.  


Oberg De La Garza, T., Mackinney, E., & Lavigne, A. L. (2015). Dual language instruction and achievement: A need and a void in the Midwest. In P. Konkol & S. Stumme (Eds.), Midwestern perspectives on bilingual education: Changing demographics and educational challenges and opportunities [Special issue]. Mid-western Educational Researcher, 27(4), 363–382.

About the authors:

Idalia Nuñez is an Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy with an emphasis on bilingualism and bilingual education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research is focused on linguistic equity in bilingual classrooms serving students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Her work looks closely at Latinx bilingual students' everyday language practices, experiences in and out of school spaces, and agency.  

Giselle Martinez Negrette is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She holds an M.A. in Education with a concentration in Bilingual Education & TESOL from New Mexico State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research interests center on issues of language, equity, and social justice.

Dr. González Ybarra is an Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy and Latina/Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research examines the language, literacies, and knowledge production of Latinx youth and educators as they are situated within sociopolitical contexts. She focuses on how these practices intersect with social constructions of race, gender, class, sexuality, and citizenship status. 

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