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Elevating ELLs

1,200 turn out to receive support that ‘was long overdue’

Participants pack Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters in Manhattan for the event. Miller Photography

Participants pack Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters in Manhattan for the event.

UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus presents the first conference aw Miller Photography

UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus presents the first conference award, which henceforth will be named in his honor, to Regent Luis O. Reyes.

Lisa Peña Humes, a teacher of English as a new language for 18 years, remembers the days when the workshops geared to her specialty were few and an afterthought at most conferences.

Last year Peña Humes, who teaches at IS 73 in Maspeth, Queens, found what she had been looking for at the first UFT conference on effective instruction for English language learners and she eagerly signed up for this year’s event on Oct. 14.

“I love the union conferences and the quality of the workshops — nobody else has it,” she said.

Peña Humes was joined by more than 1,200 educators at union headquarters for ELLevating, a conference for all educators of English language learners organized by the UFT in collaboration with the New York City Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network at Fordham University. Surveying the packed hall, Peña Humes teared up at the prominence now given ELL instruction. “I’m so impressed, I get emotional,” she said.

For UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus, the event organizer, the high attendance reflected a long unfilled need. “Our members have been seeking this kind of support, recognition and training, and it was long overdue,” she said.

Fatima Rivera (second from right), a paraprofessional at Vista Academy in BrooklMiller PhotographyFatima Rivera (second from right), a paraprofessional at Vista Academy in Brooklyn, and teachers Mahsuda Khoja (left) and Julia Chen of PS 206 in Brooklyn build terrariums in a science workshop.

Conference participants selected three 90-minute workshops from among 28 choices, with the opportunity to earn 4.5 CTLE hours. The topics included aligning state learning standards to the bilingual classroom, strategies for integrating language and content, recognizing the different stages of second language acquisition and the special needs of English language learners with Individualized Education Programs.

In “English as a New Language in the Science Classroom,” Fatima Rivera, a paraprofessional at Vista Academy in Brooklyn, was excited to learn how building a soup-container terrarium creates a shared experience for English language learners and their English-speaking classmates to bond over and start a discussion.

“I’m working with a student who hates science, but I think she’ll have a good experience with this hands-on assignment,” Rivera said.

Elizabeth Sikora, a special education teacher at the Robert E. Peary MS in District 75 in Ridgewood, Queens, said she’ll tweak the terrarium project for her K-2 students. “I don’t usually teach science, but I like going out of my domain,” she said. “If it’s hands-on, it’s beneficial.”

Clarissa Acevedo, who teaches at MS 662 in Brooklyn, appreciated the chance to lMiller PhotographyClarissa Acevedo, who teaches at MS 662 in Brooklyn, appreciated the chance to learn about resources and best practices. Clarissa Acevedo, in her third year of teaching English language learners at MS 662 in East New York, Brooklyn, said the conference offered a great opportunity to learn about resources and best practices.

Acevedo gave the example of the workshop on teaching mathematics to English language learners. “That workshop gave us different scaffolds, including a graphic organizer, that I plan to use with my 6th-grade math students,” said Acevedo. “It allows them to show their work and break it down.”

Luis O. Reyes, a state Regent and early advocate of immigrant rights and education, received the first conference award, which was named in his honor and will be awarded each year. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Betty Rosa, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, were on hand to see him receive the award.

In his address, Reyes quoted Antonia Pantoja, the Puerto Rican educator and social worker who founded ASPIRA and championed bilingual education and the rights of the disenfranchised. “You have to live a life of passion — of doing,” Reyes said. “To advocate is to speak truth to power.”

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