HARLINGEN — In Europe, if you speak three languages you’re considered multi-lingual.
If you speak two languages, you’re bilingual.
If you speak one language you’re…American.
Harlingen teachers are working to change that, and it’s Norma Garcia’s job to help them connect students to a much bigger world, which is getting smaller.
“I provide the professional development for these teachers,” said Garcia, multilanguage director for the Harlingen school district’s dual language program.
She oversees five elementary campuses with dual language academies — Wilson, Lee Means, Lamar, Sam Houston and Milam — as well as the World Language Academy at Vernon Middle School.
“I make sure the teachers have the proper resources in the classroom,” she said. “I also have to take care of the budgets. I’m in constant communication with principals.”
Garcia, a native of Ocoee, Florida, has served the district in this capacity since 2012, when administrators began developing their dual language program.
She has a passion for language instruction and its impact on the futures of children.
“The dual language program is very important because of the international competition,” she said. “We live in a very different time.”
She referred to technology and communications as the catalyst of a very different world in which so many different people are in close contact even if thousands of mile away.
“Today we can speak to people in English and then in just seconds to someone in Spanish,” she said. “In dual language programming you are becoming more cultural. You teach the children the honor you give your English language is the honor we give to the Spanish language.”
While the five elementary schools focus on English and Spanish, the new World Languages Academy at Vernon takes it a step further. Students in this academy, which opened this school year, have the opportunity to also study French, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language.
“Our greatest focus right now is the World Languages Academy,” Garcia said. “How do we continue to produce these great bilingual students so they can learn a third language and really encourage these students to move in that direction for the future?”
The future is now when it comes to fluency in several languages. Job descriptions often ask for applicants who speak more than one language.
“Our dual language program offers that opportunity to one day compete internationally,” she said. “That’s the passion I have for dual language and why we do what we do. That’s why I believe in it.”
Fluency in languages offers not only more professional opportunities, but also opens doors to better relations with others around the world, in such dissimilar tongues as Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.
“The community changes when they see you speaking their language,” she said. “The people will embrace you with even greater heart.”
The world is changing, Garcia said, and Harlingen is no longer its own small town. She recently learned that a total of 19 languages are spoken here. Those languages include, of course, Spanish and English but also Russian, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese, French and Arabic.
It is indeed a smaller — and bigger — world.
What you should know
WHO: Norma Garcia
WHAT: Mult-language director of schools for the Harlingen school district.
Just named the 2020 Bilingual Educator Honoree for RGV-TABE (Texas Association for Bilingual Education).
Bachelor of Business Administration
Master’s Degree in Education Leadership
WORK: She has served as teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal and principal.
Grew up in Ocoee, Florida, and Manzanola, Colorado
She’s the oldest of seven children
She was a migrant farmworker
She and husband Jorge have four sons