SUNY New Paltz Launches New ESL Program

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This semester, SUNY New Paltz introduced a new program: the Intensive Teacher Institute (ITI), for K-12 teachers in the Hudson Valley area.

Through the state-funded program, teachers learn specific methods to teach students for whom English is a new language. Upon completion, teachers will be eligible to receive a certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The program’s five courses are taught at Ulster BOCES, who partnered with the college to reach more schools in the area. Due to the area’s changing demographics, The New York State Education Department has had the program in mind for some time now.

According to Carmen Vazqueztell, the program coordinator, there was a need to provide better services for the students to make sure they have full access to the curriculum and that they are prepared to graduate from high school.

“[There was a need to] decrease the percentage of students that were dropping out of school and who were actually college and career ready,” Vazqueztell said.

To tackle this issue, the program strays from teaching English as a separate subject to speakers of other languages. Instead, the emphasis lies in teaching the new language through the teachers’ subject areas.

“We are working with these teachers to ensure that they are able to help students who are learning this new language, English, to develop a level of competency in all subject areas, learning the relevant vocabulary,” Project Director Devon Duhaney said. We are not separating the learning of English from social studies, math, science and so forth.”

In the courses, teachers learn skillful ways to teach students all aspects of the language: syntax, morphology, mechanics and literacy. However, the program reaches beyond this by utilizing mentors in the classroom where teachers are applying what they’ve learned.  These mentors observe their practice and engage conversations with them about their teaching techniques.

“[The teachers] are participating in a number of activities within their school buildings, putting into practice some of what they’re learning at the same time they’re learning it,” Duhaney said.

Additionally, the program aims to improve how teachers view their teaching. According to Duhaney, it is a matter of helping the teachers to develop the necessary skills, habits and attitudes to work with this population of students. The program’s goal is to stimulate professional conversations among teachers, which will manifest into improved learning communities.

Ulster BOCES helped gain interest in the program from school districts such as Poughkeepsie, Sullivan, Kingston, Hyde Park and Dover. Teachers at Poughkeepsie Middle School and Kingston High School attended the program’s first cohort, which ran from Sept. 16 to Nov. 7.  New Paltz School District has not yet participated in this program but is aware of it.  In the next two years, there will be two more cohorts.  Therefore, the program is projected to reach hundreds of students.

“It’s going to have a tremendous impact  on how these children learn and on their teachers’ ability to better reach them and better teach them,” said Vazqueztell.