WITESOL is committed to advocating for the rights of English Language Learners. An executive board member position is dedicated to furthering WITESOL’s efforts to communicate with local and state policymakers and local government. The board member who holds this position receives a travel stipend to attend an annual TESOL International Advocacy Day.
TESOL Applauds Newly Introduced 2017 DREAM Act
WITESOL Past President, Lori Menning, Partcipates in TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit in Washington D.C. in 2017
On June 18-20, 2017, I joined 110 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association in Washington, D.C. for the 2017 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured two days of issue briefings, breakout sessions and advocacy training, followed by a full day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. With representatives from over 30 U.S. affiliates in attendance, the goals of the Summit were not only to learn more about federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and our English learners, but also to provide an interactive experience for participants to actively engage in advocacy on behalf of their schools, programs, students and fellow educators.
To fully prepare for the Summit, I completed several important tasks before arriving in Washington, DC, including familiarizing myself with background information on key policy issues such as federal funding for the Every Student Succeeds Act and the BRIDGE Act and scheduling meetings with our local representatives in Congress. To help make the Congressional meetings more effective, we were encouraged to find examples from our own programs to illustrate the talking points for the meetings. That is one of the highlights for me as I enjoying sharing stories of my students and our work in the classroom.
The Summit featured a variety of keynote speakers. From the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education, Assistant Deputy Secretary Jose Viana and Deputy Director Supreet Anand shared their current work on how we can stay connected. In addition, representatives from the Office of Career, Adult and Technical Education at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Student & Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, each presented updates from their offices. The Summit also included presentations from the American Federation of Teachers, National Skills Coalition and Migrant Legal Action Program. Diane Staehr Fenner, author of the book titled Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, gave a luncheon keynote highlighting the leadership skills needed to advocate for English Learners during challenging times.
Following the breakout policy sessions, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with preparations for meetings with members of Congress. This year, I met with staff from the offices of Senator Tammy Baldwin, Representative Mike Gallagher and Representative Sean Duffy. I also shared folders with the educational staffers of our other local members of congress. By the end of the Summit, we visited the offices of over 140 Representatives and Senators.
The 2017 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit was a very positive and motivating experience, with of course a lot of advocacy work left to be done. Next steps for me include following up with those I met with on Capitol Hill and arranging meetings back in district. In addition, I again extended invitations for our members of congress to visit my bilingual classroom. I look forward to sharing updates with you at the 2017 WITESOL Conference on Saturday, November 4th in Madison. In the meantime, please visit our the WITESOL Advocacy link on our website athttp://witesol.com/advocacy/ for resources to update you on local policy and prepare you to advocate in your school, district and community. Also, be sure to follow us on social media for additional updates!
WITESOL President, Lori Menning, Participates in TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit in Washington D.C.Power of Words: Deficit Discourse and ELLs is an interesting article that may help you be a stronger advocate for your ELL students.
Lori Menning, WITESOL Advocacy Chair, shared advocacy information in the offices of the 5 members of our Wisconsin congress she met with during the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit on June 23, 2015. WITESOL members and EL advocates are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this information as they provide a voice for students in their districts throughout the state and beyond.
A Congressman in My Classroom: Making Connections
As Advocacy Chair for WITESOL, I attended the past three TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summits in Washington, DC. During these powerful summits, I participated in grassroots activities led by John Segota and had the opportunity to meet with my local members of congress on Capitol Hill. These meetings were sometimes challenging. So the congress members could make connections, I shared current happenings in my high school classroom, school, and district. I also invited them to visit my classroom and meet the ELLs.
Inviting the Congressman to Visit
Each year, 8th Congressional District Congressman Reid Ribble has dedicated time to meet with me in his Washington, DC, office. With each visit, he learned more about our bilingual program and how recent educational changes in our state directly impact the students. He always had questions, because my students are children of his constitutents in New London, Wisconsin. In the hopes that the congressman would make time to visit my bilingual classroom, I remained in contact with the staffers in his Wisconsin office, and I was thrilled to receive notification that Congressman Ribble would be visiting us!
Preparing for the Visit
My students were aware of my annual visits to Washington, DC, and my meetings with our local representatives on Capitol Hill. Each year upon my return, I share pictures, stories, and updates with my students highlighting my experiences. Therefore, I had to do very little to prepare my students for his visit; I have been updating them all throughout my advocacy journey. The only specific preparation I did before the congressman’s visit was to have them write questions they would like to ask him if given the opportunity. Most questions they selected where about his job responsibilities, about his daily life in DC, and also about recent events they heard in the news. In addition, I told them to prepare to introduce themselves, sharing a bit about how they came to New London, along with their language experiences.
During his visit, the congressman was eager to hear from our bilingual students and learn about their language and culture. He was surprised by the variety of literacy levels in the two classes he observed, along with the incorportation of the WIDA Standards for ELLs and goals connected to their ACCESS English proficiency test results. He learned how ELLs have the challenge of learning both the academic language and content while acquiring English. He shared his personal experiences with language and literacy, such as when he ran a roofing company, which had one-third Mexican employees, and when he needed an interpreter for international travel.
After observing the class and talking with students, the Congressman shared that he reads 2 hours each morning and truly enjoys reading to learn. The students were curious to hear about his experiences reading digital books versus print books (he still prefers print books). Students asked questions on current events, and one student asked a question on behalf of his history teacher.
Making ELLs a Priority
When it was shared that Congressman Ribble would be coming to my bilingual classroom, my school administration and some other classes hoped to have a few minutes of his time. Although he acknowledged their interests, he also confirmed he was in New London to his spend time in my bilingual classroom; this made the students feel very special. The Congressman’s visit was confirmation that my voice is beng heard on Capitol Hill, and this collaboration is a first step.
As an advocate for high school bilingual students, it is crucial we work together to seek opportunities. My goal is for the students to see that they can be change agents. Their voices can be heard, and they can make a difference. I want my students to know that I am an advocate for them and for bilingual education, and, therefore, I model the work that they, too, can do.
As advocacy chair for WITESOL, I continue to seek to connect our members with their passions as we work to build a board composed of teacher leaders. I believe it is critical not to seek people to fill positions but instead to connect our members with their passions. Four years ago, when I was asked to serve as advocacy chair, it was because of the advocacy I do for my students and bilingual education on a daily basis. As I share the progress I made in making connections on Capitol Hill, thanks to the training I received with John Segota during the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, I hope other ELL and bilingual teachers will also share their stories with members of congress. We can make a difference!
Bilingual Classroom Receives Visit from Congressman Ribble
2014 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit