A special buzz of energy marked the fourth annual UFT Conference on Effective Instruction for English Language Learners — ExcELLing — at union headquarters in Manhattan on Oct. 19. After a spirited welcome by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and AFT and UFT Vice President Evelyn DeJesus and a song from city Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the 700 participants headed off for a day of challenging workshops.
Lirika Preci, a veteran science teacher at MS 136 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, declared the day “excellent” as she put down the tweezers she had been using to successfully dig out and identify the tiny bones in a pellet an owl had regurgitated after a dinner of mole, shrew and birds.
“When you do something cool like this hands-on experiment, you give your students a conversation piece,” said UFT District 7 Representative William Woodruff, who was the facilitator of the Creating Conversational Opportunities Through Hands-On Science workshop.
The focus of most of the workshops was building academic and social vocabulary for ELL students across subject areas and age levels.
“Creating conversational opportunities is important,” Preci said, “and it’s always good to hear and learn new perspectives on how to accomplish that.”
In his opening remarks, Mulgrew said that what some see as the incredible challenge of the language diversity in New York City public schools, we see as “a privilege.”
“Bring it on,” he declared. “We are dedicated to all the children who come to us. Thank you to all of you here today. You are making these children’s lives better.”
The chancellor urged participants not to view their ELL students as having a “deficit,” but as becoming skilled in multiple languages. He told the attendees they are “changing the world, one multi-language learner at a time.”
Emily Quan, a 2nd-grade teacher at PS 76 in the Bronx, declared her intent to come to next year’s conference after “a productive day that will help me strengthen the way I plan and prepare my lessons.”
Paraprofessional Albana Daci of PS 354 in Jamaica, Queens, has never missed a conference. This one, like all the others, was “very informative,” she said, and the owl workshop “was so hands-on and visual it kept us all engaged and would do the same for our students.”
The Luis O. Reyes Award was presented to Dr. Santiago Wood, the executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, who challenged participants to “look at your ELL students as creative geniuses, border crossers.”
DeJesus, who chaired the conference, cheered attendees for their great work. “I know you have a lot on your plate,” she said. “Use the day to learn and to network.”