On May 30th, Rebecca Blouwolff, ACTFL Teacher of the Year and mother of two, was scrolling through Twitter in Brookline, MA when she came across a post saying that her children’s foreign language education was in jeopardy. Sarah Moghtader (@WldLangTlbx) tweeted, “300 of our educators were given pink slips yesterday for budget deficits that predated the pandemic… I am heartbroken that the World Language Program had teachers pink slipped.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, waves of teacher layoffs have hit school communities and their language programs across the country. Rhode Island saw a $57 million shortfall in its education budget, and Wisconsin and California experienced similar setbacks. In mid-June, hundreds gathered in the greater Boston area to protest against the education cuts in response to the hundreds more who had been given pink slips across 50 Massachusetts school districts. These events have galvanized teachers, students and parents such as Blouwolff to take action.
Blouwolff, a French teacher of over 20 years at Wellesley Middle School, began her advocacy by sharing an online petition for the teachers’ union via Facebook and Twitter. She implored for her network to save K-8 World Languages by signing the petition to raise awareness about reversing the Brookline layoffs. Before she knew it, she began to hear from colleagues from JNCL-NCLIS as well as from NNELL, ACTFL, MaFLA, the French Consulate, and other French educators in a nearby town. Rita Oleksak, President of JNCL-NCLIS, offered to write Blouwolff a letter of support, and President-Elect of JNCL-NCLIS, Amanda Seewald, worked together with Blouwolff to create an effective advocacy strategy.
At Seewald’s recommendation, Blouwolff requested an interview with the local paper so that she could use her voice and her platform as ACTFL Teacher of the Year to amplify her message.
Blouwolff shared, “I wasn’t just going to write another Letter to the Editor - I was going to call the local paper and suggest they interview me about the situation.”
She also reached out to the office of her district representative urging that they not only take a stand on teacher layoffs, but to also make a public statement to support the program. With JNCL-NCLIS’ support, Blouwolff was inspired to take her advocacy to the next level.
To her astonishment, Blouwolff heard back from a local reporter the next day. A legislative assistant at the Office of U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) wrote back saying, “Cutting the K-2 world language program would be particularly devastating for vulnerable students and [I] will share your thoughts with Representative Kennedy.” Rep. Kennedy tweeted about teacher layoffs in Boston shortly thereafter, saying:
After receiving such quick responses just three days into her advocacy push, Blouwolff had a new appreciation for the importance of building relationships with government officials.
Meanwhile, Blouwolff prepared her statement for a public School Committee hearing on the school budget. She made sure to include input from fellow teachers and centered her arguments on the cognitive benefits of multilingualism, the long-term liabilities of defunding language education, and the importance of world language teachers as leaders who forge insightful, communicative relationships with their students. At the School Committee meeting, many other teachers, parents, and students also spoke out against the teacher layoffs, and provided insightful testimonies about their involvement in world language education programs.
“In the following two weeks,” Blouwolff wrote, “every K-8 World Language teacher was recalled within the district. The School Committee detailed their plans to recall the teachers who had been pink slipped and wrote that it had successfully narrowed the gap that had created the pink slips to begin with."
While Blouwollf humbly remarked that, “While I cannot know what action (if any) tipped the scale, I was thrilled by the outcome and buoyed by the strength of the alliances forged through this process,” her successful advocacy efforts provide a great example to anyone who as ever wondered if their voice matters. Passionate language advocates like Rebecca Blouwolff show that local advocacy efforts can make a difference in influencing language policy on higher levels. Her efforts are emblematic of the power of organization in numbers and of employing outreach digital platforms in the age of social media.
JNCL-NCLIS is proud to offer offer policy consultations, assistance with constructing advocacy strategies, and the creation of white-papers to support educators like Blouwolff and all other members of the Language Enterprise as they advocate for world languages. Visit languagepolicy.org/resources for more resources about advocating for language education in your community or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.