Special Interest Groups

Adult Education

Networking in New Brunswick

By Debbie DeBlasio

We had some wonderful sessions and presenters on adult and higher education at the NJTESOL/NJBE spring conference this year. Not only did I get some excellent ideas for teaching, but I got to learn about what's happening at other institutions. To me, that's priceless. I'm always thirsty to hear what my fellow colleagues are experiencing at their schools.

In case you missed it, for this year's conference, I organized a round-table discussion for adult ESL topics. I asked three of my Brookdale Community College colleagues, who have extensive and diverse experience with adult education, to act as the leaders of the discussion. I had Megan Butler, who teaches a section of our ESL bridge class, a class that our faculty created to be offered on the non-academic side of the house and which is grant-funded, and also teaches ESL to adults in New Brunswick. She had her own fan base show up (colleagues from New Brunswick) and that was a great group. I also had Esther Shupe, one of our prized adjuncts who has spent her career working as an educator, social worker of sorts, and administrator; her diverse roles allowed us to see things from different perspectives. Finally, I had Joe Whelan, another amazing and passionate adjunct who really knows his stuff and brought stories about his time spent in jail - as an ESL instructor only.

When we were setting up, I put about a dozen chairs in a circle to create a more intimate space where people felt free to join in. Within about ten minutes of our start, we needed to almost triple the number of chairs. It was exhilarating to have such a packed room. We started the discussion by talking about issues we faced in the classroom and prompting people to talk about what challenges they faced. We heard a range of concerns: from attendance to funding to reaching students with post-traumatic stress syndrome. It was a lively and free-flowing conversation. I realized that when my colleagues and I mentioned the bridge class that we’re piloting, there was a lot of interest and a large portion of the questions turned to that topic. Since there was so much interest, I decided that I’ll use it as the topic of my article in the next issue of Voices, so if you’re interested, please stay tuned.

Until then, I thank you all who made it to our session. I hope you felt comfortable to speak up, and that everyone feels free to contact me with any follow-up questions or comments.

Debbie DeBlasio, Special Interest Group Rep. for Adult Education,
Department Chair, Associate Professor, Languages / ESL, Brookdale Community College, ddeblasio@brookdalecc.edu   732-224-2762

Bilingual Elementary

The Bilingual Elementary Report

By Sandy Nahmias

Allow me to introduce myself. I am NJTESOL/NJBE’s new Bilingual Elementary 1-8 Education Special Interest Group (S.I.G.) Representative (Rep). As your newly-appointed representative, I intend to keep you abreast of any new developments in the field of Bilingual Elementary education, advocate for you and our students, and voice any of your concerns. I am always available to answer your questions. Rest assured that if I do not immediately know the answer, I will do my utmost to get the answer.  I can be reached by email at nahmfam@comcast.net and by phone at 201-412-5905.

This time of year lends itself naturally to reflection both professionally and personally. I’ll begin with several professional musings. This year’s NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference just ended and with it three days of opportunity for collegial conversations and inspirational insights. Dr. Debbie Zacarian, the conference’s keynote speaker on Wednesday alluded to this in her opening remarks when she said (and I paraphrase here) that it was refreshing to be at the conference in order to spend time with professionals who “get it.” Her address focused on academic language and how important it is to build knowledge of it in all its dimensions with our English learners (ELs). This is particularly near and dear to my heart, having had to immerse myself in reading about academic language in order to become a WIDA Certified Trainer last August.  I will no doubt be touching more upon academic language in my writings to you over the course of my two-year tenure as S.I.G. Rep. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE)’s workshop was as enlightening as always, and even more so because of the information shared about the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) and the changes it will bring as the much-heralded replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Although still in its very early stages with all of its ramifications “to be determined,” assuredly there will be positive changes for our ELs (as more becomes known I will keep you updated.)  I am sure all of you who were in attendance came away from the conference with things to ponder and perhaps plan, and if you’re anything like me you’ll think about these things over the next few days and weeks.

As I listened at the conference, there were moments when my mind wandered back to the classroom and to my ELs. I’ve already written about one (see Voices, Vol. 45, No. 2, “Magdalena: Exaltation”) but there were many such moments throughout this past school year, which was far and away my most challenging, yet most rewarding, in terms of classroom instruction. With Linden’s EL numbers growing monthly over the course of the year, I was forced to dig deeply into my instructional “bag of tricks” collected over 19 years of teaching ELs in order to find the most effective means to move forward the high amount of newcomers. It was a daunting task, and despite that fact that there were moments when I fell short of my goals, I can write with confidence that the successes far outweighed the shortcomings. I learned so much from my students about how to be a better teacher; how to look beyond the classroom and more closely involve the parents in the daily goings-on; and how to acknowledge and celebrate each child’s talents and use those talents to have them meet with success in school.

It’s difficult for me to separate the professional from the personal because my profession is my life, but I will now share several more “personal” reflections. To quote JoAnne Negrin, NJTESOL/NJBE’s  new president, from a recent Facebook post in which she wrote about her conference experience as its organizer, “…a number of people who had taken risks in different ways and ventured far outside their comfort zones discovered that they are braver, smarter, and stronger than they thought they were…That’s the thing about comfort zones:  once stretched they keep going.”  Over the past year I stretched myself far outside my own comfort zones to become a WIDA Certified Trainer, to facilitate workshops, and to share knowledge across my district and at the NJTESOL/NJBE regional conferences this past winter.  In my case, Dr. Negrin is absolutely correct about feeling braver, smarter, and stronger.  My goal now is to use this newfound bravery, intelligence, and strength to serve NJTESOL/NJBE my school district, and my students and their families to the best of my abilities.

As for the summer that is imminent, I intend to continue reflecting in order to plan for next year. I have many ideas floating around inside my head that I’m looking forward with relish to turning into reality.

In closing, I wish to thank my students for being themselves; Nancy Brilliant, one of my professors at Kean University when I obtained my Masters in English as a Second Language, and Judie Haynes for urging me to run for a position on the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board; and Monica Schnee, the recipient of this year’s NJTESOL/NJBE President’s Award, for quoting her father’s words, “querer es poder” in her acceptance speech. Loosely translated,  this means, “If you want something enough, go for it and you will achieve it.” Those words have become my mantra.

I wish everyone an inspirational, rejuvenating summer.

Sandra Nahmias, 201-412-5905, nahmfam@comcast.net
Bilingual/ESL Teacher, Grades 1 and 2, School Two, Linden, New Jersey and
WIDA Certified Trainer

Bilingual/ESL Middle School

A Strategy for Maintaining Bilingualism

By Michelle Land

In 1890, bilingualism was described as “two languages rattling around….heads” and that bilingual children would become so confused that their “intellectual and spiritual growth would not ….be doubled, but halved.” 1

In 1926, a professor stated, “the use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation.” 2

As a person who speaks more than one language, I would like to believe that bilingualism does not cause mental retardation, but rather “have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.”3

While the debate about the benefits of bilingualism continues, the bilingual child is the population we are working with.  As a student begins to experience success in learning English, the following dilemma often appears – should fluency and literacy in the mother tongue be maintained and developed? 

Personally, I find this to be a daunting, but important task. Daunting because my children’s other language is not one to be found on library bookshelves or offered in online programs.  It is important because my children need to be able to communicate with their relatives and friends abroad. When given the opportunity, I have purchased books to help them maintain fluency, but this is not an option for all of the families we work with. 

Fortunately, many of our home languages do have resources, both in print and online, available to students and their families.  In addition, families can communicate online with relatives.  Families can read to their children in the native language, teach children games in their native language, and look for community programs that support their language.  A bonus with these community programs is often a library of books in that language.

Schools are an important part of the team effort.  Classes can develop pen pal relationships with classes in other countries.  Teachers can bring the home language into the classroom in a multitude of ways.  Head Start shares some recommendations for schools to promote bilingualism that are summarized here:

    1. If teachers or children share the same home language, capitalize on it.
    2. Encourage children to speak in their home languages with peers who also use the same language.
    3. Introduce the different alphabets or writing systems of the home languages.
    4. Find books in the home language. 
    5. Introduce new vocabulary in English, and find out what that word would be in another language.4


Between the home and the school, maintaining a student’s mother tongue is possible.  The message to our children should be that maintaining their native language is important and something to be respected.  It is an integral part of their personality.  If they feel that their language is valued, they will feel valued too.

Here are some resources you may find useful:


Michelle Land is the NJTESOL/NJBE Bilingual/ESL Middle School 6-8 SIG Representative.  She teaches ESL at Randolph Township Schools.  michelleland88@gmail.com 

Bilingual Secondary

My Personal ELL Journey

By Larry Bello

Another year has gone by since I arrived to the United States, and I continue to reminisce on my first arrival. My journey started when the Sandinistas in Nicaragua overthrew the dictatorship of Anastacio Somoza on July 17, 1979.  My family and I attempted to leave the country twice during the civil war but with no success. The Nicaraguan National Guard kept preventing the departure of the international flights out of the country. Finally, we were able to leave and headed to El Salvador. We would have to wait for our residency papers for a year and a half, wait to see my father; the journey was bitter-sweet. We missed our father during that time but we were able to spend time with folks from two wonderful countries. We lived and attended school in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, when their own civil war was starting. They welcomed us with open arms, made us feel like home, and then we moved to Mexico in six months. We arrived to Monterrey, Mexico, and lived there for another year where we were embraced by all.
El Salvador’s school system was similar to Nicaragua’s, as both of these countries were devastated by the leftist revolution.  At the end of my first school year in El Salvador, their revolution had started. Buses were flipped to their sides and set on fire in front of our school. School was cancelled for the remainder of the time we lived there. We heard the familiar gunshots during the night and it brought memories of the events we had experienced a year earlier. During that time, we learned the Salvadorian culture and for the first time we got to see a live soccer game in the National Stadium. I fell in love with soccer and a national dish called “pupusas”. [Ed.: A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of the following: cheese which is called "Pupusa de Queso" cooked and seasoned pork ...Wikipedia]
We arrived to Monterrey, Mexico, after a two-day bus trip to a church that made us feel welcome. My mother enrolled us in the local public school where I finished 5th Grade. I also became a fan of the “Rayados de Monterrey”, their local soccer team. I started playing soccer in the paved street of the city with the neighbors and decided to be a goalie.  I learned their history and was introduced to real Mexican food.
A year later, we moved to San Antonio, Texas. I was enrolled in the Bilingual Program for two years. I exited the program because I came with a strong educational background and was ready for general education. During the 8th Grade, we moved to Nampa, Idaho, and lived there for four years. The school system there was unaware that I was an ELL student and that I struggled communicating with my teachers and peers. Fortunately, soccer and basketball helped me overcome those barriers by overshadowing my accent and immigrant status. We moved to Rochester, New York, during my senior year of high school and again the teachers and administrators did not have a clue that I was an ELL student. This journey of mine shaped the person I am today, an advocate for ELL students. I will continue my journey in the next Voices article. Stay tuned.

Larry Bello, Perth Amboy Public Schools, lbello@njtesol-njbe.org

Early Childhood

Conference Reflections

By Carole Maurer

As always, the NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate and learn from other professionals in our field. I hope that all of those who attended returned to school with some fresh ideas and a feeling of rejuvenation. For those unable to attend, please know that you may find handouts from many of the workshops on the website: http://www.njtesol-njbe.org/handouts16/index.htm .

I attended workshops on both Wednesday and Thursday. There were several which I found especially useful and will be implementing in the next school year. I attended two different presentations on collaborating with content area teachers, “ELs and Vocabulary Acquisition for Content Area Teachers” and “Effective Collaboration Between ESL and ELA Teachers.” Each of these provided resources for working with teachers on ESL teaching strategies, as well as resources for aligning ESL curriculum and content curriculum. 

One of my favorite workshops of the conference was “K-1 Author Study Within the WIDA Framework.” The presenters demonstrated the effectiveness of using literature to teach content as well as English. I am most excited to put what I learned at this workshop into practice with my students.

I went to “Telling the Family Story” which was a wonderful presentation by a teacher who did a family engagement project which included making books about families’ immigration stories. I urge you to check it out for inspiration on celebrating families and their diverse cultures.

At the Bilingual Code presentation, representatives from NJDOE went through the code in detail, and explained the changes made to the recently updated version. They further shared that there is a guidance document on their website regarding the code. http://www.state.nj.us/education/bilingual/policy/ImplementingELLPrograms.pdf

“Pre-K Our Way: Advocacy for Pre-K Expansion.” This group advocates for the expansion of public preschool for three and four-year-olds in New Jersey. Research paints the picture of the benefits of preschool for all children. NJTESOL/NJBE is looking forward to collaborating with Pre-K Our Way to help bring awareness to the unique needs of English learners.

 As the PK/K Special Interest Group Representative for NJTESOL/NJBE, I facilitated the Special Interest Group meeting and presented strategies for working with ESL students in early childhood settings. I was very excited to meet those in attendance who had great questions and comments pertaining to the education of our youngest ELs. Special thanks to Karen Nemeth and Monica Schnee, two experts in the field of early childhood and ESL/bilingual education, who were on hand to answer questions and share their wisdom.

I hope that everyone is enjoying a relaxing summer. Take some time before heading back to school in the fall to review your notes from the conference, or check online for the workshops you may have missed out on. This is sure to reenergize you for the new school year. But for now, Happy Summer.

Carole Maurer, Early Childhood SIG, ESL Teacher, Ocean City School District,


Parent and Community Action

Yes, It's THAT Important

by Angeline Sturgis

Someone recently asked me this question, "To be a good teacher, do you focus more on the public speaking aspect or acquiring background information to enhance your lessons?" I was so taken aback, I stood speechless. Is this what most people think teaching is all about? In order to achieve top marks in all four Danielson domains, one just needs to be as polished as a Ted Talk presenter and spend a little time in Wikipedia? I laughed out loud. I'm afraid he looked a little hurt when I blurted out, "No I'd say it was a toss-up between consoling a child whose father  was  just targeted for deportation, and coaching a first grader on how to make a doctor's appointment over the phone because his mother's English skills can't cope." Like most English as a Second Language teachers I know, I would have trouble defining my role as a teacher. All I know is that where this role places me is right in the center of a child's heart, beside a family, within a community, surrounded by a country shaped by politics, policies, and prejudices.

I later thought about the "background information" this man was referring to, and thought I could have been a little more generous. Yes, I guess I do spend a lot of time "acquiring background information," but it isn't about English grammar, academic language, test models or  scaffolding instruction. The "background information" I gather is in understanding each child's life by learning as much as possible about his living situation, the extent to which basic needs are being met, the back-story to the family's journey to this country, and the quality of life this child wakes up to each day. This is teaching with my eyes wide open and a willingness to embrace the situation as it unfolds.

So too, I should have agreed,  the role of the ESL teacher today involves "public speaking" in that it must include communication and understanding of the "public" or community, both the communities of immigrants we work with, and the public policy makers we deal with either directly or indirectly.

A few months ago, I was invited to attend an event at New Jersey Education Association's headquarters featuring Junius Williams, a remarkable man whose brief resume read, "a nationally recognized attorney, musician, educator and independent thinker." Very quickly, I learned that he had been passionately involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, had been a celebrated guest at The United Nations, was the youngest president of The National Bar Association, ran for mayor of Newark, and was voted one of the "100 Most Influential Blacks in America," by Ebony Magazine. How had he come to be in this room at NJEA headquarters speaking to a group of teachers? At this point in his life, after so many admirable accomplishments, Mr. Williams is using his lifetime of advocacy experience to help New Jersey schools because this is where he believes change can happen in our society. I was in awe of this man, his energy, his accomplishments, and his unwavering dedication and attention to the children in New Jersey public schools. Then it hit me: we as teachers are that important. We as ESL teachers are already involved in the lives of families and the connections that spin off from that one student in front of us to all the children in this nation starving for justice and representation.

At our recent NJTESOL/NJBE Conference, I held a session on Parent Involvement and Community Outreach. It was dynamic. It was heartwarming. It was astonishing how much of their own lives and imagination ESL teachers put into their profession. We heard innovative ideas and asked the hard questions. We shared tactics and problems. We applauded a teacher who uses her professional development days to make home visits so she can explain the parents' role in homework. Another teacher holds parent meetings in the local public library. What a brilliant way to introduce community resources.

Junius Williams knows what is important and how to get it, one community at a time. I encourage you to read more about him and his Abbott Leadership Institute here:  http://abbottleadership.org/. In the meantime, remind yourself that you and your job and your role as teacher are really that important. Beyond the notion of teacher as the purveyor of information, we are empowered to be purveyors of action and justice in our society today.

Angeline Sturgis, ESL Teacher, K-3.Lawrence Township, NJ,  asturgis@ltps.org

Special Education

A Postcard from New Brunswick: What I Learned at the Annual Conference

By Sonya Bertini

What a whirlwind the conference was. I presented seven times in three days, breaking some sort of record I am sure. I really want to send kudos out to Dr. JoAnne Negrin who chaired what I believe was an excellent conference. I also want to thank my colleagues from the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board who collaborated with me on all the Hot Topics presentations: Larry Bello, Greg Romero and Michelle Land, it was my pleasure presenting with you. Since, in the words of one of my colleagues from Vineland High School, I was “all over that conference,” I came away from it with what I believe was the overriding theme: collaboration and advocacy.

Let’s consider collaboration first. There were several excellent workshops that stressed the importance and advantages of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers collaborating with English Language Arts (ELA) teachers. This sort of collaboration guarantees that all children benefit from the best educational practices in the most inclusive environment. Through common planning and a mutual respect for expertise and pedagogical knowledge, these teachers are delivering instruction that meets the needs of all the students in their class without having to pull them out of the classroom.  Special education teachers, bilingual teachers, ESL teachers, and ELA teachers have worked together to adapt and modify curricula so that all students, regardless of their specific learning needs, can meet the rigor of the general education curriculum. This is good news. This is the new trend. In order for English language learners to succeed and meet graduation requirements set by the state, they must be exposed to the general education curriculum from the very beginning. This requires collaboration among all the teachers delivering instruction.

Now, as for advocacy, the law is on our side, ladies and gentlemen, so let’s ensure it is being followed. After my seventh presentation, I honestly thought my head was going to pop off if I heard the term “double dipping” again when it comes to students not being able to receive both English Language Learner and Special Education services. How about this….we MUST double dip if students qualify for both services. The law[s] – both state and federal- require[s] us to. No excuses. The presentations I attended given by the Department of Education and Jessica Levin of the Education Law Center were empowering. The law guaranteeing that our students are not left out of any educational programs or initiatives is very clear. In my presentations, I urged the attendees to respectfully insist that the law be followed in their district. I was truly amazed to hear how many districts are resistant to testing ELLs for a possible learning disability. Certainly, I do not condone a jump to classify a child as needing SPED services. I believe children need to be given time to learn the new language and that a variety of interventions must be tried before a child is evaluated. That being said, if a teacher really believes there may be a learning disability present, there should be no obstacles to testing. The law backs us up. I suggest that if you are faced with refusal or resistance in this matter that you refer your colleagues and supervisors to the law, to the Department of Education, and/or to the Education Law Center.  I promise you that I am making this my own personal crusade, somehow in my position as the SIG representative for Special Education I am going to educate and inform child study team members and when possible, administrators on what the law requires. Yeah, I guess I came home fired up.

In closing, I wish you all a restful, enjoyable summer. It was wonderful to meet so many of you. For those of you who did not attend, try to make it a point to attend in 2017. The NJTESOL/NJBE annual conference is an excellent opportunity to learn about the latest trends, share ideas, network, and just plain enjoy being in the same company of your hard working colleagues whose hearts are in the same place as yours.

Sonya Bertini, SPED SIG, Vineland High School  stb582000@yahoo.com

Teacher Education

Growing Your Own: Strategic Partnerships Between District and University

By Lois Spitzer

"Individually, we are one drop. Together we are an ocean." Ryunosuke Satoro

In response to the number of bilingual and ESL teachers who are teaching without having fully completed the requirements for their endorsement, world language teachers experiencing job insecurity due to budget fluctuations, and mainstream teachers who need to understand and respond to the needs of ELLs, JoAnne Negrin and I, Lois Spitzer, had the pleasure of collaborating on a strategic partnership between my university and her school district beginning in the fall of 2013. I, an associate professor of education and ESL/BE endorsement programs at Stockton University, and JoAnne, an ESL/BE supervisor in Vineland Public Schools (VPS), decided that offering graduate ESL/BE endorsement courses in a Vineland location would be a beneficial opportunity for local teachers. Our collaboration and communication would provide support and leadership during a time of almost constant change in the landscape of public education.

We began our discussions by holding an informational meeting in Vineland in the spring of 2013. Stockton administrators and faculty members from the School of Education and the Office of Graduate Studies came to VPS to discuss the benefits of this joint venture. The interested teachers were then contacted and a mutually convenient day and time was agreed upon. Joanne offered the district’s basement classroom as the place to hold the classes and we were off to a great start in the fall of 2013.

The five courses required by Stockton for ESL endorsement were offered sequentially once a semester (for five semesters) and students found it convenient to meet for classes at a Vineland location. The hybrid delivery format required face-to-face meetings every other week and the students chose to meet from 4:30 to 7:30, which enabled most to come directly from their schools. The reduced tuition offered by Stockton and (partial) tuition reimbursement by VPS made this arrangement accommodating and convenient for very busy teachers.

Beyond the convenience of the courses, students appreciated the continual communication between us and the availability of JoAnne as a resource. Between our discussions of language acquisition and learning theories, best sheltered English instruction strategies, SGOs, AMAOs, PARCC assessments, and core standards, among other topics, the academic material provided by me paired with the practical guidance provided by JoAnne was a one-two punch. JoAnne’s input on specific district (and state) issues was invaluable.

The benefits to the endorsement completers, Stockton, and VPS were significant.As a result of this partnership, more teachers are now qualified to teach ESL and bilingual education in New Jersey. The cohort completers became eligible for ESL and/or BE endorsements and filled ESL and BE positions in VPS and other districts. VPS has satisfied its previous shortage of qualified applicants. Stockton has more endorsement completers eligible for teaching positions and potential Master of Education candidates. Reflecting on this partnership, we believe that the most important benefit may the collaborative model that has been provided for future university/district partnerships.

Dr. Lois Spitzer