Supporting P-3 Multilingual Learners: Insights from Oakland Unified School District’s Collaborative Efforts

Early Edge California


In September 2021, Early Edge California and its partners launched the Multilingual Learning Toolkit (MLT), an online hub of research-based key principles, instructional practices, and accompanying free resources. The key audience for this resource is teachers who work with Multilingual Learner children in PreK-3rd Grade as well as program administrators and higher education faculty members. The MLT was made possible through the generous support of the Emerging Bilingual Collaborative (EBC).

To help provide further supports for Multilingual Learners, the EBC launched a Community of Practice for ten Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and county offices of education across California to leverage the MLT in their implementation of high-quality professional learning for PreK-3 educators.

Early Edge has started to capture initial stories of success from the field to share as examples of the benefits of using the MLT from a practitioner’s perspective and to celebrate the efforts and dedication of our partners in this work.

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is one of the ten participating LEAs in the Community of Practice. Early Edge recently had the opportunity to interview three key individuals who contributed their perspectives to this story: Dr. Bernadette Pilar Zermeño – Multilingual Specialist & PreK/TK Dual Language Coach, Mr. Abel Guzman – Elementary Language Specialist, and Ms. Christine Martinez – PreK Teacher.

Oakland Unified School District

OUSD is home to a large and diverse population of children, serving 34,000 students. Close to 1 in 3 of these students is a designated English Language Learner (ELL) and half speak a language other than English at home.

The city of Oakland’s community has been open and supportive of its unique and rich diversity, which the OUSD teachers have also demonstrated in their classrooms and programs. “One of our essential practices in Oakland is being an asset-based educator,” Mr. Guzman shared. Thanks to funding from the EBC, the district was able to start its PreK Biliteracy Pathway Awards in 2023. Through the implementation of these awards, Dr. Zermeño shared the powerful experience of hearing from parents and families who felt that their home languages were valued. “We can imagine the kids feeling uplifted; parents feel like we are honoring their child.” In addition to this effort, OUSD hosts parent workshops to further promote the importance of multilingualism. The MLT has a robust offering of best practices on Home Language Development, which has been an instrumental resource for OUSD. “A lot of our educators, both in English only and dual language schools do not speak the languages that our students speak,” shared Mr. Guzman. “So they are eager also to understand how they can leverage home languages when they don’t speak the home language.”

PreK-3rd Grade Alignment

OUSD leveraged the MLT and its participation in the EBC Community of Practice to help create alignment between PreK-3rd in preparation for the state’s rollout of the PK-3 ECE Specialist Instruction Credential. Dr. Zermeño noted that, in particular, OUSD wanted to create spaces to share best practices; whether one was a 3rd-grade or high school teacher, it “really helps teachers focus in on specific strategies that can be used across all grade levels and that can be used across all subjects.”

The importance of collaboration is evident across OUSD and is a powerful testament to their strategic approach to supporting Multilingual Learners. Recognizing the isolation that tends to occur among grade levels, the district integrated the MLT into existing initiatives that leverage collaboration—and by doing so, began to build a bridge across PreK-3 and open doors for partnerships across the state. Dr. Zermeño highlighted several connections that OUSD has made with leading experts, such as Dr. Carola Oliva-Olsen and Dr. Laurie Olsen, as a result of the MLT.

Leveraging Partnerships

A key connection that OUSD leveraged for this work was with Lead by Learning. Through this partnership, teachers have gathered over the last several years as part of an inquiry group to provide a forum for ongoing dialogue and reflection on specific topics. The inquiry group served as a perfect platform for the use of the MLT; through dedicated workshops, and with the support of Dr. Zermeño and Mr. Guzman, teachers were invited to explore the website, use the strategies, and reflect on how they could support the Multilingual Learners in their classrooms.

Ms. Martinez is a member of the inquiry group and attested to the value of using the MLT in collaboration with other teachers: “Being hands-on in the program really helped me understand the Multilingual Learning Toolkit.” She also shared a recent experience with one of her students, who found it “really hard to sound out the words in English,” Ms. Martinez shared. “And then at the end, she was excited because she’s able to construct the sentences and was able to speak not only with us but also with her peers.”

The MLT curates videos that illustrate the strategies that Ms. Martinez used to support her Multilingual Learner’s oral language development. “Something that teachers have highlighted very positively is the videos that are embedded in the Multilingual Learning Toolkit,” Mr. Guzman shared. “Teachers really struggle to see strategies in action. We have a lot of…descriptive resources about different studies. So I think something that teachers value and are actually eager and asking for more are actual videos of teachers implementing the strategies.”

The benefits of participating in the inquiry group extend beyond Ms. Martinez’s PreK classroom; thanks to the connections she made as part of the program, she has now gained colleagues across grade levels. “I have one colleague and she’s a TK teacher,” Ms. Martinez shared. “We try to bridge everything from preschool to TK and Kindergarten… we try to see how we can help the students that are going to go from PreK to TK.” Ms. Martinez plans activities like field trips in partnership with the TK teacher, and also hosts incoming orientation with families who are moving from PreK to TK to help ease the transition.

The Impact of Collaboration

As OUSD continues to be a champion for Multilingual Learners and progress in its efforts to align across PreK-3, it’s clear that the district gained momentum through the MLT and the EBC Community of Practice. Mr. Guzman highlighted the overall impact of this work:


“In some spaces, you could hear the same talk, you can hear the same words, you can hear the same mindsets. So I think it’s definitely this work with the Multilingual Learning Toolkit and Early Edge. I think it’s definitely sinking in with different districts… it’s affirming these strategies because, in these places that are really supporting ELs and Multilingual Learners and emerging bilinguals, I do hear and see the same people…I think it’s definitely making an impact.”

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