Summit focuses on instructing English learners
By Jean Conley
E ducator Dianne Norton was so intent on attending the recent MTA English Language Learners’ Summit that she traveled more
than a day early to do so.
Norton, who teaches English as a Second
Language at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High
School, was one of more than 200 public educators
who participated in the summit, which was held at
Waltham High School on March 3 the day after a
devastating winter storm pummeled the region.
Knowing that ferry service would be cut off
because of the storm, Norton crossed to the mainland
on Thursday and stayed with her parents so she
wouldn’t miss the chance to spend time in the
company of her colleagues.
“I really liked the fact that I could feel like I was
part of the bigger community,” Norton said. ESL
teachers largely work in isolation on the Vineyard,
she said, “so to be able to come and have a day
entirely devoted to what we do I was so excited.”
The summit the first of its kind focused
on educating English learners, supporting immigrant
students and building relationships with families. It
featured close to 30 workshops, including “Supporting
ELL Students in Your Classroom,” “Bilingualism and
Disability” and “The Refugee/Immigrant Journey and
The idea for the summit was hatched three
months earlier by MTA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs
and Education Support Professionals committees as
a way for teachers, school psychologists and others
involved in the education of English learners to trade
strategies for meeting their students’ academic, social
and emotional needs.
Woodly Pierre-Louis, a seventh-grade English
language arts teacher at the Randolph Community
Middle School, said that even as a veteran teacher,
she thought it was a good idea to sign up for the
“RETELL Refresher” workshop because “I needed
to remind myself: Am I doing the right thing to
support my students?”
The summit came on the heels of passage
last November of a law that marked a big victory
for MTA member advocacy — the Language
Opportunity for Our Kids bill.
“The LOOK Act opens up the opportunity
once again for meaningful bilingual education to
give English learners the chance to learn in the way
that is best for them,” said MTA President Barbara
Madeloni, addressing the crowd during the lunch
“That was able to happen because of the work
that members did to let the people at the State House
know that this bill was really important,” Madeloni
continued. “We fought for it, and we won.”
MTA Vice President Erik J. Champy noted the
educators’ commitment to seek out every opportunity
to help students succeed.
“Last year we started to pilot professional
development workshops during February vacation
and we had some interest,” he told the crowd. “By
April vacation, PD workshops were full. By summer
vacation, we had waiting lists.
“I know how hard you continue to work in
classrooms every day for our students,” he added.
“You continue to make us strong and proud.”
Participants also heard from lunchtime speaker
Natalia Berthet Garcia, who immigrated to the U.S.
from Uruguay with her family when she was 5 and
now works as a Jobs With Justice organizer.
No doubt, every educator in the room could
relate to her story.
Berthet Garcia recounted her “constant state of
confusion and isolation” growing up in Leominster.
While she enjoyed the advantage of being bilingual,
she also struggled with what it meant to be poor and
“No support system existed to help me make
sense of the world,” Berthet Garcia said. “What
do you do when you speak two languages but you
cannot find the words to speak your truth?”
After she did well academically in elementary
and middle school, her grades plummeted in high
school. Confusion and isolation had gotten the best
of her, Berthet Garcia said. But now, as part of her
job with Jobs With Justice, she often visits her old
high school in Leominster.
“While I was once so confused, now I know
exactly where I should be and what I should be
doing,” she said. “It gives me great pleasure to do
this work. I truly think that organizing in many ways
saved my life and put me on a really good path. It
helped me find that voice to speak up.”
Victor Navedo of the
of Worcester and
Joyce Abraham of the
in the “Supporting
ELL Students in Your
at the summit. The
event, co-sponsored by
MTA’s Ethnic Minority
Affairs and Education
more than 200
educators to Waltham
on March 3.
Photo by Jean Conley