The CUNY-NYSIEB project

The City Universality of New York (CUNY) is a system of 24 higher education institutions. It consists of two-year community colleges, four-year senior colleges some with graduate programs, a graduate doctoral school (The Graduate Center), and professional schools, such as the Law School and Journalism School. The CUNY colleges are located throughout the five boroughs of New York City. In the following section, we describe the vision of the project, as well as the way in which it operates. We do so to offer a blueprint as to how a state education department, a university system, and K-12 schools can work collaboratively to change practices to educate emergent bilingual students.

Foundations: Vision and principles

The CUNY-NYSIEB vision emanates from students’ lives and their linguistic and cultural practices, specifically viewing and referring to them as emergent bilinguals. We use this term in place of others that only focus on the learning or absence of English (i.e., ELL or Limited English Proficient/LEP) to emphasize the potential of these students to become bilingual and biliterate, and our vision of how bilingualism emerges. The vision ofCUNY-NYSIEB is centered on three principles:

  • 1. the creative emergence of individual language practices;
  • 2. the dynamics of bilingualism; and
  • 3. the dynamic processes of teaching and learning of emergent bilinguals (for the entire vision statement, see

The principle of creative emergence of language practices asserts that “bilingual development is not linear, static, or able to reach an ultimate endpoint of completion; rather, it is always emergent, continuous, never-ending, and shaped by relationships with people, texts, and situations” (n.p.). It responds to the contexts in which bilinguals language using their entire repertoire. In this view, a speaker never has a language, but simply uses or performs a language. Through interactions at home, in their community, school and other institutions, bilinguals add linguistic features to their language repertoire, and these features work together in functional interrelationship to shape the bilingual’s unitary linguistic system (

The second principle takes the stance that bilingualism is dynamic, and not simply additive (Garcia, 2009). The vision statement continues:

In our global world, bilingual practices reflect the language user’s adaptation to specific communicative situations and to the communicative resources provided by others. Rarely do bilingual individuals learn one language completely and then begin to acquire another. A bilingual speaker is thus never a fully balanced bilingual. Rather, what bilingual speakers do is to language bilingually, or translanguage, in order to make meaning from the complex interactions that are enacted by different human beings and texts (

The final principle—the dynamic processes of teaching and learning—urges educators to encourage and support emergent bilinguals to use their language repertoire in fluid and dynamic ways. When the language practices of bilingual individuals are viewed holistically, rather than as double (or multiple) monolingual, the pedagogical approach to supporting them also changes. As Garcia and Menken (2015) have said, “bilingual students need to language bilingually, or translanguage, using their entire linguistic repertoire to make meaning and to meet their communicative and academic needs” (p. 99). Educators must provide the affordances and opportunities that are needed for new language practices and understandings to emerge. It is when the right affordances are provided that students can construct new knowledge and understandings of, and with, language. This requires breaking down the rigidity of language separation within classroom so that bilingual individuals can have the affordances and freedom to express themselves fully and to access content completely. In action, teachers honor this tenet when they engage bilingual children with their entire range of language practices, including those associated with English for academic purposes, as their very own. As the vision statement states:

For bilingual children to successfully perform academically in English, schools support a multilingual context that recognizes the language and cultural practices of bilingual children as an important part of the school’s learning community, (

The vision statement has informed the two non-negotiable principles, which all participating CUNY-NYSIEB schools have been required to observe.

Non-negotiable principles

CUNY-NYSIEB worked with schools that vary in myriad ways, and the work that was done with each one was different according to the characteristics of its student body and its local community. However, from the onset, we established two principles that were NOT negotiable for all the schools’ participation in CUNY-NYSIEB:

  • 1. That a multilingual ecology be developed in the school, in which all the language practices of the school community were reflected in the visual linguistic landscape and interactions.
  • 2. That the dynamic bilingualism of students, that is their translanguaging, be used in instruction across settings.
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