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Bruce Leal: Making History in a Second Language

  • Bruce Leal at TFA 25 Summit

About one quarter of Hawaii’s people speak something other than English in their homes -- the highest percentage in the nation -- yet, in most Hawaiian classrooms, the instruction is entirely in English.

This was a challenge that Bruce Leal (Hawaii, 2014) set out to address when he was selected as a LEE Policy Advisor Fellow in 2016. Bruce conducted policy research and worked to pass policy to ensure quality education for students who speak English as a second language alongside Hawaii State Board of Education member, Patricia Halagao (Bay Area, 1992).

Because of Bruce’s effort and partnership with Patricia, Hawaii is now one of only two states to hold this policy that seeks to address a nearly 20 point nation-wide graduation gap between English language learners and the national average.

The policy notes that “when students’ identities, histories, cultures, and languages are included in a meaningful and equitable education, they are better able to learn academic content and the official language medium of education, be it English or Hawaiian.” It also stipulates that the state should provide a “range of language programs” for English learners as well as educators who are prepared to effectively teach and engage with families.

Now that he has completed his fellowship, Bruce has taken on a new role nearly 5,000 miles away in Maryland where he will serve as legislative aide and finance director for Sen. Bill Ferguson. Here, he will continue to his efforts to achieve educational equity and embody the leadership and skills instilled in him through the Policy Advisor Fellowship.