On the Highest Aspirations Podcast, we engage in important conversations about the most rapidly growing student demographic in the United States - English Language Learners. We speak with educators and students, researchers and policy makers, and parents and community members about how we can help all students reach their highest aspirations.
Join us on this important journey as we bring the vibrant ELL Community together around the topics that matter most to the students we serve.
In this episode, we speak with Abu Bakr a-Rabia about how how his journey to Canada as a Syrian refugee became a book written by his teacher Winnie Yeung. Abu Bakr talks with us about learning English, adapting to a very different life in Canada, and why it was so important for him to tell his story. Despite the struggles he and his family endured, his message is one of positivity and praise for the human spirit.
When asked what advice he would give to teachers, ELL students, and school leaders Abu Bakr began by saying, “I would say it doesn’t matter where they are from or what they went through - they will come through it. All they need is a little bit of time to learn the language. Don’t let news or social media make a fear connection between you or make a bridge between each other. I would say communicate as humans. It is very hard at the beginning for both people - the one who speaks English and the other - because they don’t understand each other. But after they get to know each other more, they will know what the newcomer needs."
As you’ll hear in the episode, reading the book Homes: A Refugee Story left a lasting impression on us. For that reason and many more, we were honored to speak with this remarkable young man.
Homes: A Refugee Story tells the true story of Edmonton high school student Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, whose family left Iraq in 2010 in search of a safer life. They moved to Homs, Syria — just before the Syrian civil war broke out. As told to Winnie Yeung, Homes tells Bakr’s story of growing up during the Syrian civil war, and ultimately moving with his family to a new home in Edmonton, Canada. It’s a story that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, about the devastation of war and the enduring love of family — an urgently necessary read for understanding Syria and what it’s like to be a refugee.
What happens when an ESL teacher helps a refugee student tell his story? How can relating simple, day to day activities in a war-torn country help us understand that people around the world have more similarities than differences? Why is it so important to understand what our students want to do with their learning?
We discuss these questions and much more in Part 1 of a two part series about the book Homes: A Refugee Story. Winnie Yeung, an ESL teacher in Edmonton, met Abu Bakr in the fall of 2015. What started as an attempt to help tell this refugee student’s story in a speech turned into a much bigger project, resulting in the publication of the book.
"Homes: A Refugee Story tells the true story of Edmonton high school student Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, whose family left Iraq in 2010 in search of a safer life. They moved to Homs, Syria — just before the Syrian civil war broke out. As told to Winnie Yeung, Homes tells Bakr’s story of growing up during the Syrian civil war, and ultimately moving with his family to a new home in Edmonton, Canada. It’s a story that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, about the devastation of war and the enduring love of family — an urgently necessary read for understanding Syria and what it’s like to be a refugee." (Freehand Books - Interview with Winnie Yeung, about Homes: A Refugee Story: http://www.freehand-books.com/books/homes-a-refugee-story/interview-with-winnie-yeung-about-homes-a-refugee-story)
Be sure to listen to part 2 of the series (Episode 22) where we talk with Abu Bakr al-Rabeeah about his experience as a refugee who was given the opportunity to tell his story.
How can making and sharing music bring together diverse groups of students? What skills does an educator need to incorporate tech tools to help students create culturally relevant and academically appropriate products? How can teachers of any subject leverage the power of music and technology nurture strong classroom and school communities?
We discuss these questions and more with Sarah Minette. Sarah has taught for 14 years in public schools. She currently teaches a variety of music classes at Minneapolis South High School-a very large and diverse school in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sarah is in the process of developing as many classes as possible to create multiple access points for students at South to experience music education.
What gaps exist between resettled refugees and their communities and how might we go about bridging them? How can the simple act of spending time with one another in a common space help break down barriers? Why is it so important to move toward an asset based approach with newcomers and what they bring to our communities?
In this episode, we are joined by Kitti Murray and Walt Anderson of Refuge Coffee. They talk with us about how Refuge is empowering refugees to use their many gifts to help create a vibrant community in Clarkston, Georgia - a town that has been called the most diverse square mile in the United States.
By pursuing their goal to provide employment and job training opportunities to resettled refugees, creating a unique, welcoming gathering place in Clarkston, and telling a more beautiful refugee story to Atlanta, Refuge Coffee is on a mission to bridge the opportunity gap, the hospitality gap, and the awareness gap.
How are schools accommodating English Language Learners with disabilities? What are some of the common challenges when working with these students and how might we overcome them? What impacts do EL and disability status have on reclassification or exiting? We discuss these questions and much more with Dr. Sara Kangas of Lehigh University.
As an applied linguist, Dr. Kangas researches the educational experiences of English learners (ELs) with disabilities. Focusing on K-12 contexts, she is particularly interested in understanding how schools can create learning environments that support both the linguistic and academic needs of these learners. Dr. Kangas’ research also examines how educational equity for ELs with disabilities intersects with language policies and institutional structures.
In this episode, award winning journalist Helen Thorpe joins us to discuss her most recent book, The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom.
The book follows the lives of twenty-two teenagers from around the world over the course of one school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado, in a beginner-level English Language Acquisition class. Many arrive directly from refugee camps, some after having lost one or both parents; together, their class represents a microcosm of the global refugee crisis as a whole. The Newcomers tells the story of what happens during the students’ first year in America, and it follows the journeys of three families in particular—from Iraq, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—illuminating what life is like in refugee-producing parts of the world. The book was published by Scribner in 2017.
What opportunities exist for ELL Specialists to work as coaches to help content teachers better serve their English Language Learners? What strategies have proven successful and sustainable for supporting students in the long term? What are some of the obstacles that make this work challenging and how can anticipating them help maximize impact?
We discuss these questions and more with Michelle Benegas and Amy Stolpestad, founders of the English Learners in the Mainstream or ELM project at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. Learn more about Michelle and Amy and the resources they recommend during out conversation at https://ellevationeducation.com/podcast/highest-aspirations-s01-e16.
How might a teacher use podcasts as a way to increase language skills of EL students? How can creating podcast episodes help newcomers become engaged contributors to their school communities? How can telling stories about family experiences in this format enhance cultural responsive practices?
We discuss these questions and more with James Housworth, creator of the Hidden Voices Podcast. James is a a high school EL teacher in Roseville, Minnesota. He works with both ends of the EL spectrum, teaching newcomer SLIFE students (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) as well as advanced LTELs (Long-Term English Learners). James is currently researching the differences between L1 and L2 literacy acquisition to finish his Masters in Education at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
What are the implications of ESSA on ELL programs and instruction?What specifically are Title 1 and Title 3 administrators going to observe in the coming months? And how about principals and teachers? How is the K-12 world we know going to change in 2018-2019?
We discuss these questions and more as Ellevation President and Co-Founder founder Teddy Rice sits down with Dr. David Holbrook of TransACT Parent Notices. We handed over the mic the Teddy - our in house policy wonk - for this episode because he is well-versed in ESSA, which led to a rich conversation with David.
What are some of the barriers to family engagement in underserved communities? How can using basic technology help educators better engage with families of English Language Learners? How do we go about changing mindsets and perceptions of families who may not have had positive experiences with formal education or those who have limited education in US schools?
We discuss these questions and more in our conversation with Heejae Lim. Heejae is the founder and Executive Director of Talking Points, an educational technology company whose mission is to drive student success in low-income, diverse areas through building strong partnerships across parents, schools, and communities. As she mentions in the episode, Heejae was influenced to start the company by her personal experience as a Korean immigrant living in London. We get into that and much more in our conversation.
Many team members here at Ellevation Education recently participated in the company's 5th annual Hackathon. In this bonus episode, Steve sits down with Ellevation's VP of Engineering Eric Wong to learn more about what it is and why we do it.
How do ELL programs and instruction differ in Canada? What supports are in place to help newcomers and their families succeed in their new country? How do educational systems in Canada support diverse populations of students?
We discuss these topics and more with Paula Markus, former ESL Coordinator for the Toronto School Board and Sessional Lecturer at the University of Toronto.
How do schools go about identifying and developing EL teacher leaders to help other educators work with culturally and linguistically diverse students? What strategies have been most successful in developing these EL teacher leaders? How do schools create a culture in which EL teachers can lead the way and serve as experts in their field?
We discuss these questions as they relate to pre-service programs, professional development, co-teaching models and more in our conversation with Dr. Felice Russell from Ithaca University and Dr. Kerry Soo Von Esch from Seattle University.
How can project based learning strategies help accelerate the learning of ELLs? What kind of community partnerships work best when implementing project based learning in schools? How might teachers facilitate learning outside of the schools in ways that are mutually beneficial to students and community members?
We discuss these questions and much more in our conversation with Donna M. Neary. Donna teaches high school Social Studies to English learners in Louisville, Kentucky. She is part of a team that piloted the Accelerate to Graduate program at her school. Donna’s role on the team is to teach US History, World History, Exploring Civics, Global Issues, and Humanities.
Her concentration on the importance of field trips to student learning is firmly rooted in her experiences guiding tours for students and observing the impact that being in proximity to art, history and authentic artifacts has on development of students critical thinking skills and cognition.
What does it take to build a new school from the ground up in a high ELL demographic area? How do school leadership and mission driven initiatives impact the culture of the school? How does a new school recruit, train, and retain highly qualified teachers to work with underserved populations?
We discuss these questions and much more with Ruben Alonzo, Founder of Excelencia Charter Academy in East Los Angeles, California. Ruben talks with us about how his profound personal and professional experiences influenced him to leave Texas and start his own school in Los Angeles. During the conversation, we learn about leadership, planning, professional development, and innovative school models. Just as importantly, Ruben’s contagious passion and dedication to this work serves as an inspiration for anyone who works with underserved communities.
What is cultural responsiveness and how can schools and teachers integrate it into their practice? How do we weave cultural responsiveness into lesson planning, grouping, and assessment? What role does professional development have in ensuring educators are equipped with culturally sensitive strategies?
We discuss these questions and more with Sarah Said. Sarah has fifteen years of experience working with English Learners from all parts of the world in the Chicago land area as a teacher, building administrator, and District Level Director of English Learner/Bilingual programs. She sits on the Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education, where she is about to complete the first year of her three year term. Sarah is a regular blogger for ELL Confianza. Her work has also appeared in Ed Week blogs and Mawi Learning.
How can ELL stakeholders tap into the power of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) on Twitter and beyond? What should ELL teachers do to be viewed as experts and advocates in their schools? What resources are most powerful for those just getting started?
We discuss these questions and much more with Emily Francis. Emily is an English as a Second Language teacher at W.M. Irvin Elementary School in Concord, North Carolina. She serves students in Kindergarten through fifth grade with various English proficiency levels. Emily’s experience as an English Language Learner inspired her to become an ESL teacher and affords her a deep understanding of the challenges her students must overcome to find success. She serves as a professional development facilitator, motivational speaker, Keynote, ESL PLC lead, cooperating teacher, and mentor to beginning ESL teachers.
As a leader, Emily’s focus is to inspire students to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.
What does rigor mean for students with interrupted formal education (SIFE)? How do we recognize and leverage the experiences newcomers bring to improve the education of all students? Why is it important that educators embrace a mindset that constantly challenges beliefs about students and what they are capable of?
We discuss these topics and much more in our conversation with Carol Salva. Carol is a former elementary educator and has most recently taught newcomer English Language Development in both high school and middle school. She is also a consultant with Seidlitz Education, where she specializes in using researched-based sheltered strategies to teach grade-level content to unschooled/under-schooled language learners. With proven success including these students in content area classes, Carol is able to support teachers to make these efforts practical and to the betterment of the general population.
How do we engage English Language Learners in community programs? What supports are effective in helping immigrant students thrive beyond the school walls? How might we partner with outside organizations to create mutually beneficial programs for communities and newcomers?
We dive into these questions and much more as we continue our series on family and community engagement with Anna Leversee. Anna manages the Enroot program in Somerville, MA. Enroot’s mission is to empower immigrant youth to achieve academic, career, and personal success through inspiring out-of-school experiences. A firm believer in quality education for all, Anna is energized by working with people who volunteer their time and talents to make this goal a reality.
We chat with Anna about the power of partnering with community organizations to help immigrant youth reach their highest aspirations.
What does the research say about family and community engagement and its correlation with academic achievement? How can school leaders help teachers implement family engagement strategies that work for diverse groups of students? What can schools to to get started with this important work?
On this episode, we are pleased to welcome Stephany Cuevas as we continue with our series on family and community engagement. Stephany is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on the relationships mixed-status families and undocumented parents have with systems and structures of higher education; she studies how immigration status and notions of legalization influence and shape families’ perceptions, understandings, and relationships with higher education.
How can schools and communities come together to support immigrant students and families? How do we go beyond the open house at school and bring people together in new ways? Renata Germino started the Bridges Through Bread program in Charlottesville, VA to bring a diverse group of people together around a universal topic - food. We chat with her not only about how we can help immigrant families, but also about how they can help us.
What does it take to run a successful dual language program? How can schools find teachers and resources while also striking the appropriate balance of students who most benefit from these programs? We tackle these questions and more with Daniela Anello, Head of School at DC Bilingual Charter Public Charter School. DC Bilingual has one of the largest percentages of ELLs in the district, but it is also among the 3 highest performing K-5 schools. Join us as we will explore some of the keys to their success.
How do we navigate all the buzzwords, acronyms, and definitions of Dual Language learners and programs? What are the benefits to these programs for English Language Learners, Dual Language Learners, and native English speakers? What are the challenges schools and communities are facing in implementing them and how can we begin solving them?
We tackle these questions and more as we kick off our series on Dual Language Programs with Dr. Conor P. Williams. Conor is a senior researcher in New America's Education Policy Program where he founded the organization's Dual Language Learners National Work Group in 2014. His work addresses policies and practices related to educational equity, dual language learners, immigration, and school choice. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, U.S. News and World Report, among many others. Before joining New America, Conor taught first grade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.