Natalie Francois-LaFleur was 9 years old when her mother sent her from Haiti to the United States to live with her father. She remembers the yellow dress she wore and her “beautiful white shoes.” It was a difficult transition, but it was the family’s choice, she recalled.
Today Francois-LaFleur teaches English as a new language at Pathways College Preparatory School in St. Albans, Queens, and she’s seeking ways to help undocumented students, many of whom have been separated from their families and not by choice.
That’s why she chose to attend the Education and Not Deportation workshop offered as part of “cELLebrating,” the third annual UFT Conference on Effective Instruction for English Language Learners. Francois-LaFleur was one of more than 500 educators at the Oct. 20 conference at UFT headquarters in Manhattan.
“I want people to know that in this union and in this city, we celebrate diversity,” said UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus, who organized the conference.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew, Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also gave greetings.
Conference participants could earn 4 CTLE hours by attending two workshops from among the more than 20 choices. Topics included the nuts and bolts of integrated co-teaching for ENL teachers, writing for English language learners, using art to support language acquisition in the early childhood classroom, science in the ENL classroom, and graphic organizers and English language learners.
Soledad De Leon, a K–5 English as a new language teacher at PS/IS 210 in upper Manhattan, said the workshop on supporting bilingual students with disabilities gave her a better understanding of how important it is to get to know yours students “and not make assumptions.”
“Sometimes you do things automatically and don’t realize you’re being unfair to the kids,” De Leon said.
She said a checklist for the multicultural classroom that was distributed in the workshop will help her stay on track.
Dr. Claire E. Sylvan, the senior strategic adviser of Internationals Network for Public Schools and a longtime educator and advocate of immigrants and multilingual learners, received the Luis O. Reyes Award, named after the state Regent and early advocate of immigrant rights and education. Sylvan was the chapter leader at International HS at LaGuardia Community College earlier in her career.
“We are educators and advocates for students, families and their communities,” said Sylvan in her keynote address. “The duality of the ELL educator is to ensure lively classrooms and to ensure that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) cannot walk at will into our classrooms. In complicated times like this, neutrality is not an option.”
In the Education and Not Deportation workshop, presenter Cesar Moreno Perez, the associate director of human rights and community relations at the American Federation of Teachers, provided numerous resources and guidance for how to help students who are at risk of deportation by federal immigration enforcement.
Francois-LaFleur said the workshop answered many of her questions, especially about how best to approach students and their parents who are at risk. “I know some of my students need assistance,” she said.