Achieving Success: From the Heart

Need some help finding ways to help your English language learners? Read these inspirational stories about English language learners, teachers and paraprofessionals who have overcome obstacles standing to achieve success. If you know a teacher, student, paraprofessional, principal or after-school program who inspires you and deserves recognition, please share their story with us!

Adoption and Language: A Mother's Perspective

Dr. Laurie Weaver – Houston, Texas

Dr. Laurie Weaver is a Professor of Bilingual and Multicultural studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Laurie is also a proud single parent of Marisa, whom Laurie adopted from Guatemala when Marisa was about six months old.  In 2002, Laurie wrote an article for Adoptive Families about Marisa's early language development. We caught up with Laurie to find out what advice she has for parent and educators about the language development of internationally adopted children.

New Freedom Park and the Immigrant Families Who Designed It

Wade Shelton – Denver, Colorado

New Freedom Park is a Denver community park and garden which opened in 2012, built through a partnership between Denver Parks and Recreation Department and The Trust for Public Land. What caught our attention is that the local community of refugees played a significant role in the park's design and planning. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, New Freedom Park Project Manager Wade Shelton describes the process of engaging the refugee community in the park's design, overcoming language barriers in meetings and procedural votes, and learning to set assumptions asides when working with newcomer immigrants and refugees.

Preparing All Teachers to Teach ELLs

Ayanna Cooper – Atlanta, Georgia

Ayanna Cooper, Ed.D., is an independent consultant who specializes in and facilitates professional development for ELL educators. She is currently serving a second term on TESOL's Professional Development Standing Committee. She also serves as TESOL's Black English Language Professional and Friends Forum leader (BELPaF). In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Ayanna discusses strategies for culturally responsive teaching, highlights issues around black ELLs on which she'd like to see more research, and explains why she sees ELL education as a Civil Rights issue. 

Empowering Immigrant Youth

Dr. Kathia Flemens – Washington, District of Columbia
In thinking about ways to increase educational and leadership opportunities for immigrant youth, sometimes it's helpful to see what other organizations are doing! This interview with Dr. Kathia Flemens, a Senior Research Associate at the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA), shares the story of such a program in Washington, DC.

Building Relationships in a Bicultural World

Annie Mai – Garden City, California

Annie Mai is an educational consultant who hosts a weekly radio program for Vietnamese parents in California's Garden Grove Unified School District. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Annie describes her experiences adjusting to life in America as a young Vietnamese immigrant, what her parents went through once they arrived in a new country, how the Garden Grove School District's radio program has transformed parent participation in her school district, and what parents really want to know about the U.S. educational system.

Creating a Community of Learners

Larry Ferlazzo – Sacramento, California

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English language learners at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, CA. He also writes regularly about ideas for the ELL classroom in his blog, Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day. In this interview, Larry discusses the way he uses technology in his classroom, how he finds new resources for his blog, and how he has helped to create a "community of learners" at his school.

Meeting Students Where They Are

Amber Prentice – St. Paul, Minnesota

Amber Prentice Jimenez is an ELL teacher in Washington State and a former middle school ELL teacher in St. Paul, MN. Amber, who is a member of the American Federation of Teacher ELL Cadre, has taken an active role in her schools and districts on a number of issues, including supporting refugee students. She also was selected by the AFT to train female teacher trainers in Yemen in a special professional development program. In this From the Heart interview, she discusses how she supports students with a wide range of educational backgrounds, offers some tips for schools with growing refugee population, and explains why the AFT program in Yemen is so important in empowering a new generation of educators and girls.

A Good Will Ambassador for ELLs

Maria Feist – Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Maria Feist is an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania's Downington Area School District. She started her teaching career in a mainstream classroom, but after working with her first English language learner, she slowly gravitated towards the ELL classroom. Maria recently completed her ESL certification, and in this essay for Colorín Colorado, she describes how her upbringing shaped her interest in other cultures, and how she made the move into the ELL classroom.

Tracking ELL Issues: Notes on 'Learning the Language'

Mary Ann Zehr – Washington, District of Columbia

Mary Ann Zehr is a high school ESL teacher and a former assistant editor at Education Week. While at Education Week, she wrote about the schooling of English-language learners as one of the only journalists covering ELL issues on a national level.  She also launched the "Learning the Language" blog, which tackles policy questions, explores learning innovations, and shares stories about different cultural groups and subgroups of ELL students, such as refugees.  In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Ms. Zehr discusses her work on the blog and the trends she has observed in the ELL field. She also talks about the Quality Counts 2009 report, "Portrait of a Population: How English-Language Learners are Putting Schools to the Test," to which she contributed.

Latino Student Success: Providing the Right Learning Opportunities

Dr. Frances Contreras – Seattle, Washington

Dr. Frances Contreras is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington in the College of Education in Leadership and Policy Studies. Dr. Contreras presently researches issues of equity and access for underrepresented students in the education pipeline. In 2009, Dr. Contreras co-authored a book with Dr. Patricia Gándara entitled The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, which will be released from Harvard University Press in January. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Dr. Contreras discusses her upcoming book, as well as her current research with Latino middle and high school students in Washington State.

Helping Parents Become Partners

Ma'Lena Wirth – Baker City, Oregon

Ma'Lena Wirth is an ESL interpreter and paraprofessional at North Baker School in Baker City, Oregon. As part of her position, Ms. Wirth works with all of the ESL students in her school district, and has developed a family literacy and parent involvement program. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Ms. Wirth discusses how she increases parent participation and confidence, how she encourages family literacy, and how she has helped her school and community learn how to support English language learners and their families.

Filling in the Holes

Jacqueline Jules – Falls Church, Virginia

Jacqueline Jules is an elementary school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, as well the author of numerous acclaimed children's books. In 2007, Ms. Jules published No English, a story about a second-grade girl's efforts to befriend a new student from Argentina despite their language barrier. The book offers an honest, touching portrayal of the challenges and opportunities presented when we get to know someone who speaks another language.

In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Ms. Jules discusses her writing, the students that inspired the story of No English, and ways to encourage reading with English language learners.

Good Instruction: The Key to ELLs' Success

Dr. Robin Scarcella – Irvine, California

Dr. Robin Scarcella is Professor at the University of California at Irvine, where she also serves as the Director of the Program in Academic English and ESL. She has written over sixty scholarly publications on ESL teaching and L2 acquisition, edited numerous volumes, and written many methodology books and textbooks.

In the last four years, she has provided teacher professional development workshops to over 10,000 elementary and secondary teachers. Her most recent volume is Accelerating Academic English. She received her doctoral degree in Linguistics at the University of Southern California and her masters in Second Language Acquisition-Education from Stanford University. Dr. Scarcella is also featured in Colorín Colorado's webcast about academic language and ELLs.

Supporting Students and Educators

Dr. Catherine Collier – Ferndale, Washington

Dr. Catherine Collier is a leader in the fields of cross-cultural, bilingual, and special education, with more than 40 years of experience as a classroom and resource room teacher, diagnostician, researcher, and the director of a teacher-training program specializing in certification of bilingual paraprofessionals at all teaching levels.  Dr. Collier currently is the director of CrossCultural Developmental Education Services (CCDES), a company offering support and professional development opportunities to community organizations, departments of education, school districts, teachers, and parents. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Dr. Collier discusses her background in ELL, bilingual, and special education, as well as some of the ways these fields have changed during her career.

Building Bridges to the Future

Xiao-lin Yin-Croft – San Francisco, California

Xiao-lin Yin-Croft is a third-grade ELL teacher of Chinese bilingual students at Ulloa Elementary School in San Francisco. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Xiao-lin shares her experiences coming of age as a student in China's Cultural Revolution, describes the strategies she uses to help her students develop the language and reading skills they need, and discusses the factors she believes are contributing to her students' success.

The Great Kabob: A Lesson in Mindful Teaching

Dr. Cynthia Lundgren – St. Paul, Minnesota

Dr. Cynthia Lundgren is an assistant professor at The Center for Second Language Teaching and Learning at Hamline University's Graduate School of Education in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Lundgren teaches future ESL and Bilingual teachers. Her special interests are reflective practice and the development of cultural sensitivity. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Dr. Lundgren shares her objectives as a mentor who is preparing teachers for the many challenges they will face in the classroom, as well as her perspective on current education practices in U.S. schools.

Drawing Inspiration from Her "Heroes and Sheroes"

Inès Millin Mevs – Miami, Florida

Inès Millin Mevs is an ELL teacher at Boca Raton Community High School in Florida. Her ELL student writing workbook entitled Think Write Book: A Sentence Combining Workbook for ELL Students, published by AuthorHouse, offers language development exercises designed to improve ELLs' writing skills. The student edition is accompanied by a teacher edition, which features information about the research base supporting each of the teaching strategies. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Ms. Mevs discusses the book, her motivation for writing it, and the many ways in which her students — her "heroes and sheroes" — inspire her each day.

Making Reading Fun

Sarah Harbert – Indianapolis, Indiana

Sarah Harbert is a teacher of English language learners at Clinton Young Elementary School in Indianapolis, IN. She is now in her third year of teaching at the school, and in that time has developed a reading and tutoring program for her students, as well as an innovative book-lending program designed to get students to read more at home. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Sarah describes her program, how she motivates her students to read, and why she believes her program is working.

Getting Students Where They Need To Be

Toniann Jeffery – Litchfield Park, Arizona

Toniann Jeffery is the coordinator of the ELL program at Wigwam Creek Middle School in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Ms. Jeffery also continues to teach as part of two English-language development programs at her school — the Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) program and the PALS elective class (Plato® Alternative Learning System) — while offering support to content teachers working with ELLs. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, she discusses how she is implementing technology in her classroom and what that technology is making possible for her students — and for her as a teacher.

The Support Students Need

Claudia Navarro – Coral Gables, Florida

Claudia Navarro is an ELL paraprofessional at Coral Gables Senior High School in Coral Gables, Florida. A native of Colombia, Claudia has lived in the U.S. for more than 27 years. She now provides academic support in content areas to ELL students at her high school through the federal Home Language Assistance Program. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Claudia describes what makes her work as a paraprofessional unique, how teachers and paraprofessionals can best work together, and the support she offers to her students to help them succeed.

Teaching ELLs How to Succeed

Felix A. Herrera – Arlington, Virginia

Felix A. Herrera is an ESOL teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he is a native of El Salvador. Mr. Herrera holds a master's degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserves. The pull of the classroom, however, has kept him coming back to teach. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Mr. Herrera offers some of his insights about the problems that ELL students face, as well as the steps that ELL teachers can take to support them.

Achieving Success with ELLs

Kathleen Leos – Washington, District of Columbia

Kathleen Leos is the former Assistant Deputy Secretary & Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition in the U.S. Department of Education (OELA). She is also the mother of five children, whom she raised in Mexico and whose first language was not English. In this exclusive interview with Colorín Colorado, Ms. Leos describes how the issue of educating English language learners started as something personal in her local PTA and then eventually became the central issue in her long and distinguished career in the ELL field.

Language and Culture in ELL Education

Maria Estela Allende Brisk, Ph.D. – Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Maria E. Brisk, professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, is a leader in the field of ELL education. Drawing on more than thirty-three years of educational experience, she shares her insights about the role language and culture play in diverse classrooms across the country in this interview. Dr. Brisk is editor of Language, Culture, and Community in Teacher Education, a book that addresses common educational needs among all ELL students.

Teaching Math and Science to ELLs in High School

Ginny Thomas – Dallas, Texas

Find out how Ginny Thomas, a High School teacher in Texas, faces the challenges of teaching content to English Language Learners. Also: Some advice on how to get the school year off to a good start!

A Teacher of Little Children

Dr. Rebecca Palacios – Corpus Christi, Texas

Affectionately called "Doctora Palacios" by her class of four year olds, this outstanding teacher continues to achieve success as she follows her passion for teaching.

Para Los Niños: Reading All Summer Long!

Lucía González – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Lucía González is the associate director for Programming, Literacy, & Youth Services in Broward County, Florida. In charge of program services for 37 branch libraries that serve more approximately two million patrons, Gonzalez has more than 20 years' experience working in libraries.

How to Help Migrant Children Succeed

José Rodríguez – Sacramento, California

Cirenio "José" Rodríguez, Ph.D., is a professor of Educational Administration and Policy Studies, at California State University, Sacramento. His department offers graduate programs in educational leadership, helping train educators to become school principals, deans, superintendents and other administrators.

Strengthening Spanish to Improve English

María Elena Orozco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

María Elena Orozco teaches 7th and 8th grade heritage Spanish and Spanish language arts at Benjamin Harrison Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

King of the World

Anne Worrall – San Diego, California

Anne Worrall is principal of Carson Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District. With 15 years of experience as an educator, a master's degree and a Biliterate Certificate of Competence and Cross-Cultural Certificate (among others), Worrall helps her staff focus on language development to deal with the growing needs of her school's ELL population.

Writing — The Other Side of Literacy

826LA – Los Angeles, California

826LA is an innovative community project designed to help K-12 students develop creative and expository writing skills and to help teachers better teach writing. The nonprofit is one of six sites around the country that matches up volunteer tutors with local students. The overall mission of the project is based on the idea that one-on-one attention facilitates great learning and that writing is critical to success.

Using Language Roots to Grow Stronger Readers

Delores Noble-Parker – Window Rock, Arizona

Delores Noble-Parker grew up in the Diné (Navajo) Nation in the Southwestern United States. Her generation was in the middle of a massive cultural shift between the traditional Diné culture that predominantly spoke the Diné language and a modern culture trying to stamp out the language.

Getting ELLs on the College Track

Christine Rowland – New York, New York

Christine Rowland has been an urban New York City educator for 15 years. She's come a long way from the small, all-girls school she attended in England and knows that coming from another culture has given her just a tiny taste of what immigrants face in a new country.

Launching Native Language Literacy Programs

Kristina Robertson – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Kristina Robertson found her professional calling while serving in the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka in the early 1990s. Her stint as an English instructor there inspired her to return to school. After school, she returned to her roots in Minnesota, where she is now an ELL program specialist for the Minneapolis school district.

Reaching Out to Content Teachers

Susan Lafond – Guilderland Center, New York

Susan LaFond, lover of languages, is a natural fit for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). LaFond majored in French and has a master's degree in Spanish. She started teaching Spanish and French nearly twenty years ago, then started teaching ESL as well in 1999. Two years ago, she began teaching ESL only. She teaches at Guilderland High School in upstate New York. She is also a professional development specialist and teaches other educators strategies for teaching ELLs.

Taking a Personal Interest

Jesús Yáñez – South St. Paul, Minnesota

Jesús Yáñez is a paraprofessional who works with ESL students at South St. Paul High School in Minnesota. A native of Mexico, Mr. Yáñez can relate to the wonder of students from southern climates who have never before seen snow, as well as the bewilderment of students enrolled in classes that are conducted in another language. In an area with a tiny community of Spanish-speaking families, Mr. Yáñez pays extraordinary attention to his students.

Bringing National Resources to the Local Level

Deborah Wilkes – Sanford, North Carolina

Deborah Wilkes grew up on the outskirts of Nottingham, England, in the shadow of Sherwood Forest. While she doesn't claim inspiration from the Robin Hood legend, she does spend a great deal of time helping others. Named North Carolina's "Migrant Teacher of the Year" in 2003, Ms. Wilkes teaches English as a Second Language at Lee County High School in Sanford, North Carolina.

Leading by Example

Mina Flores – Beaufort County, South Carolina

She came to the United States as a teenager, not knowing a word of English. A woman of extraordinary determination and will, Mina pushed herself to learn and to excel, spurred by the thought of her mother, who made a great sacrifice to let her go. Today, a mother herself, Mina chokes up when remembering what her mother gave up so she could have better opportunities.

Using Technology to Create a Visual Learning Environment

Alma Milan – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The needs, struggles, and achievements of English language learners are diverse and unique; understanding them is not always easy for educators. However, some educators were English language learners themselves and therefore have a bit of insiders' knowledge. Such is the case of Alma Milan, a certified ESL teacher at Kosciuszko Middle School. Of Filipino background, she came to the U.S. at age six, knowing three languages — none of which was English.

Sharing Immigration Experiences to Engage Learners

Margarita Carrere – Washington, District of Columbia

We know that English language learners come from all types of backgrounds: geographic, social, economic, even cultural. We know some of them were born in this country, and some may have come from the southern tip of Chile. A question we sometimes forget to ask is how they got here.

Inventing Super Heroes and Writing About Their Adventures

Cassandra Lawrence – Perth Amboy, New Jersey

How about achieving super-hero status? That is exactly what Cassandra Lawrence (also known as "Book Woman") and her fourth grade class did! This yearlong exercise kicked off with Book Woman walking into the classroom — complete with a long black cape lined with book covers.