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Spotlight: Teachers Reaching English Learners

Veronica Howard (right) has worked as a bilingual educator and teacher of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) in West Haven Public Schools for the past 12 years. She works with fifth grade students at May V. Carrigan Intermediate School as part of a team that had a caseload of approximately 110 English language learners (ELLs) in 2016-17.
 
Howard is originally from Argentina, where she taught English as a foreign language subject. Since arriving in the district, she has seen the ELL population and their needs change.
 
“We have grown, not only in numbers, but also in the languages that our staff speaks,” said Howard, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated West Haven Federation of Teachers. “We now have tutors that are fluent in Arabic, French Creole and other languages that our students speak,” she added.
 
West Haven’s ELL team includes 13 bilingual/TESOL certified teachers,10 tutors, six paraeducators and one reading specialist, as well as the department’s director. In addition to serving primary and secondary students in all nine of the community’s schools, the staff provide services to ELLs in their renowned Adult Education program.
 
IB ImageMarisa Gambardella (left) also works at Carrigan, where for the past 10 years she has taught sixth grade ELLs. She comes from a family of educators; her twin sister is also a TESOL teacher in West Haven at Washington Elementary School and their mother retired as a school nurse in Ansonia.
 
Gambardella sees her role working with her ELL colleagues as a proactive and fully integrated part of their community’s entire education team. 
 
“I don’t think we would have the kind of success we have now without collaboration,” she said. “Within the department and across the district, we work together on behalf of the same students every single day. We want them to feel that they have a support system not just here, but outside of this building, too,” added Gambardella, also a West Haven Federation of Teachers member.
 
Click here for press reporting on improved student outcomes in West Haven that noted progress among ELLs.
 
Along with a steady increase in the overall ELL population, the number of refugee families resettling in West Haven is also growing. To help meet these students’ unique needs, district officials formed a partnership with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a New Haven-based organization that aids new arrivals to Connecticut.
 
“Here in West Haven, when kids register — regardless of their immigration status — we enroll them and offer a quality public education,” said Howard.
 
Click here for reporting on honors last year for two West Haven adult ELLs who were also refugees.
 
Howard explained that in cases where she and her colleagues are not aware up front of a student’s refugee status that it becomes clear in the course of educating them. “They have other needs, and often medical or social/emotional issues that may be the result of interrupted schooling,” she said. “That’s when we invite the family in to discuss their child’s education history.”
 
Gambardella stressed that she and the whole ELL team strive to be cognizant of all their students’ backgrounds — especially those who are refugees. “We need to be sensitive when approaching certain topics in the classroom,” she said, adding that “their learning is very much a cultural experience.”
 
Click here to watch Gambardella and Howard share more on their efforts to educate refugee students and all ELLs.
 
World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20 to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions who flee persecution, violence or natural disasters in their home countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) latest annual report found an unprecedented 65.6 million people uprooted from their homes by conflict and oppression at the end of 2016.
 
The agency is marking this year’s recognition by delivering their “With Refugees” petition to allow people around the world to express solidarity with families forced to flee their homeland. It’s also an opportunity to demand that all governments ensure refugees a safe place to live, the opportunity to contribute to their new communities and an education for their children.
 
Click here to add your name to the petition.
 
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