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NJTESOL/NJBE Participates in TESOL
Advocacy Day 2011

By Gail Verdi

Gail with colleagues on Advocacy Day Gail Verdi, Rosalinda Barrera (USDOE Director of Office of English Language Acquisition), Judith O'Loughlin (CA), and Anne Shoemaker (DE)

On June 6-7, 2011, I participated in TESOL Advocacy Day 2011 in Washington, DC as a delegate for NJTESOL/NJBE.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join over forty other TESOL members representing over 25 U.S. based affiliates for a transformational experience. I want to thank NJTESOL/NJBE for trusting me with this responsibility because I was able to learn in real time how citizens take action through our democratic processes. This year was the sixth consecutive year for TESOL Advocacy Day, and the organization utilized a new format that featured a full a day of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a full day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The goals of Advocacy Day were not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for affiliate representatives on elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of more than 100 Representatives and Senators.

Advocacy Day Group Photo Advocacy Day participants

Responding to recent action in Congress and from the White House, TESOL Advocacy Day 2011 was focused on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently revised as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). TESOL Advocacy Day events commenced on June 6th with a welcome from TESOL Past President Brock Brady, and a welcome from TESOL Executive Director Rosa Aronson. The event was led by John Segota, Director of Advocacy, Standards, and Professional Relations, and Ellen Fern of Washington Partners, LLC, TESOL’s legislative consultants. The first day featured a briefing from Congressional staff to present the “view from the Capitol Hill” on ESEA reauthorization and the key issues under debate, as well as a similar briefing with representatives from the National Education Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In addition, Dr. Rosalinda Barrera, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the US Department of Education, provided an update from OELA and discussed the Obama Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing ESEA.

Following these briefings, a series of activities were held to review aspects of the legislative process as well as how to prepare for meetings with members of Congress. Participants had the opportunity to role play as members of Congress in a mock hearing to discuss a piece of legislation, as well to have a mock debate on the floor of Congress to try and pass legislation. Participants were also provided key information to prepare for their meetings and were given the opportunity to plan for their meetings. The purpose of these briefings and activities was to help the participants practice and prepare for their meeting on Capitol Hill that afternoon.

On June 7th, to maximize the impact of TESOL Advocacy Day, I met with key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This year, I began my day with a meeting at Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey’s office with Anne Shoemaker of PennTESOL East.  After this initial session, I continued on my own and met with staff from the offices of New Jersey Representatives Robert Andrews, Rush Holt, Donald Payne, and Steve Rothman where I discussed TESOL’s recommendations for ESEA reauthorization and the impact of the current law upon English language learners in New Jersey.  I was impressed by the amount of knowledge staff members had of issues regarding both English language learners and ESEA.  We had thoughtful and productive conversations about the differences between social and academic language skills as well as understanding that language proficiency does not necessarily correlate with acquisition of content knowledge.  We also discussed the need to have experts in the field of second language acquisition involved in the development of testing protocols such as those based on the new Common Core Curriculum Standards in Math and Language Arts (See PARCC Partnership for Assessment for College and Careers & SMARTER Balance Assessment Consortium).

To fully prepare for Advocacy Day, I was required to set up my own individual meetings with senators and representatives. To assist with this, TESOL provided directions and guidance, as well as the list of specific representatives and senators to contact.  This was a time consuming process because I had to make several follow up calls or emails.  However, I was quite surprised at how receptive the staff members were to communicating with me via phone and email.  By the time I arrived at several offices, I already developed relationships with the members of the staff I was meeting.  I began each of my meetings by letting the staff member know that my goal was to develop a relationship with the office as a member of NJTESOL/NJBE.

I was also sent talking points and background information on ESEA reauthorization so that I could begin to familiarize themselves with the issues in advance. To help make Congressional meetings more effective, I was also encouraged to find examples to illustrate our talking points. I made it a point to emphasize the need to train mainstream teachers in approaches such as Sheltered Instruction and Response to Intervention so that English learners at all levels have an opportunity to participate in classroom activities based on standards and outcomes.  NO STUDENT SHOULD EVER SIT IN A CLASSROOM IGNORED OR GIVEN AGE INAPPROPRIATE MATERIAL.

At the end of the day, I shared my experiences and what I learned over dinner. It was interesting to hear what other people experienced on their visit. Overall, all of the participants agreed this event was a very positive experience for them and for TESOL.

Additional information about TESOL Advocacy Day will be available on the TESOL web site at http://www.tesol.org. If you are interested in learning more about your Congressional representatives, and the legislative issues TESOL is tracking, go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at http://capwiz.com/tesol.

Gail Verdi is NJTESOL/NJBE Teacher Education SIG Representative.