Refugees: The 21st Century Challenge – KDP at the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations Conference

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Srecko Mavrek, Dr. Basanti Chakraborty, and Dr. Rose Cardarelli (L-R)

Dr. Rose Cardarelli is a Kappa Delta Pi NGO Representative to the United Nations.

On January 27, 2017, Kappa Delta Pi representatives attended the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations conference on the theme “Refugees: The 21st Century Challenge.” This conference brought together more than 700 educators from the United States and around the globe to learn about the primary challenges confronting refugees, and especially issues concerning education.

A refugee is a person who is forced to flee their home country to escape persecution, war, or violence. Per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 21 million people worldwide are classified as refugees, with half that number under the age of 18. An additional 10 million people around the world are stateless, meaning they may have been denied access to any education.

As educators, we are aware that education can empower and transform lives, reduce poverty, provide employment skills, and facilitate better health opportunities.

Education can change lives, communities, and countries. Therefore, the plight of these refugees should concern all of us.   

Highlights of the conference included the following sessions:

  • The opening session consisted of a discussion on current challenges confronting refugees. Panelist Ninette Kelley (UNHCR) provided background information, Bob Clark (Rockefeller Archive Center) contributed historical perspective, and Maher Nasser (UN Department of Public Information) shared his thoughts about growing up as a refugee from Palestine. The panel stressed that because of the challenges facing youth refugees, educators were vital and UN influence was critically important. To address how educators could help, the panel suggested activities such as including refugee issues in curriculum, pursuing advocacy and scholarship, and celebrating World Refugee Day to enhance awareness. Nasser said that refugees ultimately want to return to their homeland and stated, “Education is the best response to the most vulnerable—when they go to school, they can make a difference.”
  • The morning panel on refugee issues was moderated by Rima Salah (UN Secretary-General’s Panel on Peace Operations) and included Bill Frelick (Human Rights Watch), Emily Garin (UNICEF), and Mark Harris (ELS Educational Services and Berlitz, emeritus). Frelick stated, “We need bridges, not walls, and engagement, not containment.” The panel also discussed the risks refugees face, such as family separation, disappearance, death, statelessness, social exclusion and discrimination, disrupted education, violence, exploitation, and abuse. Harris shared how challenging it could be for educators who had refugees in their classrooms because they needed to understand the students’ language, observing, “Language is the key to opening the doors to education, and a common language enhances understanding.”
  • Several students from Kenya, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Burundi spoke about being refugees and the invaluable educational opportunities provided by UN programs. They also discussed how difficult it was to attend school while in a displaced situation. Sometimes they had to choose between having water, food, or an education because not all were always available. If schools were provided, there would be no distinction between or separate classrooms for different grades. Power and toilets were not always present. As one student stated, “Everything becomes difficult.”
  • Additionally, conference awards were presented for Excellence in Education and students’ graphic art posters. KDP representative Dr. Basanti Chakraborty was one of the award recipients recognized for the poster competition at the conference, on behalf of students from Balasore College. KDP was also acknowledged for its participation in the conference.

The following is a sample of some of the services and resources identified at the conference. They can assist educators in learning about the circumstances affecting displaced students and the related challenges to obtaining a quality education. (Inclusion is not necessarily an endorsement.)

KDP members are encouraged to review the UN website for NGO relations, where there is a wealth of information and resources enabling educators to cultivate global citizenship in their classrooms.

A teacher, a Falcon, and a Kadelpian for life.

A few weeks ago, the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Dr. Dawn Shinew, contacted me and asked if Kappa Delta Pi members would be interested in meeting Muriel Hutchinson Strebe and honoring her at a Classroom Dedication ceremony.

After some inquiring, I learned that Mrs. Strebe was a successful elementary school teacher and had made Bowling Green State University the beneficiary in her estate plan as well as established the Muriel Hutchinson Strebe Scholarship for students entering the College of Education. So, naturally, I agreed, looking for any opportunity to demonstrate Kappa Delta Pi’s support of fellow educators.

After rallying the KDP members that were available during the day on a Friday, we made our way to a personal meet and greet with Mrs. Strebe, taking our seats at a round conference table on the fourth floor of the Education Building, waiting for this generous woman who was being honored throughout the College of Education.

Then she walks in.

Muriel Strebe.

Dressed in orange with a large golden medal hanging around her neck.

Helping her in is Dean Shinew, along with the college assistants who have been with her the whole day. She smiles at us and laughs, explaining that golden medal meant that she was a “Golden Falcon,” an award she won for being an involved alumnus.

She is remarkable, so excited to talk to fellow education students—students to whom she has given so much.

14457321_1659164627728061_5365316323270890690_nAfter she sits down, I introduce myself and tell her that I am President of our campus chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

She said, “Yes, I was a part of this chapter when I went to school here.” I look at her, astonished, and then I look at the dean. I couldn’t believe it. This incredibly gracious woman was a part of OUR chapter. The Delta Phi Chapter! I was so excited. No one in this room knew that she was a member of Kappa Delta Pi before that moment.

I motioned for the next KDP members to introduce themselves, while I scanned my mind for ways to recognize this woman as a KDP member.

“The Binder!” I thought.

The Chapter binder that every KDP initiate has signed for decades. Her name was probably in it! What better way to welcome her home than by showing her the binder she signed more than 65 years ago.

I excused myself from the conference room and ran across campus to get it. It was in our KDP office, only 5 minutes away.

I unlocked the cabinet and went to the very back of the binder. Loose-leaf papers were ripped and aged, with some barely hanging on in the binder. I saw that the pages went back only to 1958, and so the years 1958 down to 1947 were either never documented or were missing. I knew our chapter was more than 75 years old, so Muriel Hutchinson Strebe would more than likely have been initiated her freshman year.

It saddened me that I couldn’t present to her the initiation page she signed so long ago. It was time to be creative and find a way to honor this remarkable woman through Kappa Delta Pi.

Then I see them, the blank certificates in the cabinet. Maybe I could re-initiate Mrs. Strebe and honor her a second time. I knew she was worthy of it, for who better exemplified the words of the Kappa Delta Pi creed?

Mrs. Strebe has lived the ideals of Fidelity to Humanity, Science, Service, and Toil. She has inspired and strengthened others and is the essence of Knowledge, Duty, and Power.

I grabbed the binder, a blank certificate, and a creed. I quickly walked back to the conference room, knowing exactly what I was going to do.

I entered the room while the members were wrapping up their introductions. I looked at Mrs. Strebe and told her that our records had been misplaced, and I couldn’t find her signature—but, if she would be okay with it, I would like to re-initiate her so she can be added to our binder.

She laughed and said that she would be honored!

I placed the binder on the table and read a small portion of our ceremony ritual.

14441184_1659164567728067_1479710292263504065_nI then handed her a pen, and she signed our Society Charter for a second time.

We all clapped after she signed, and I held her hand, thanking her for agreeing to sign our book and be a part of the Kappa Delta Pi Class of 2016.

While she was in another meeting, I went to our Technology Resource Center and printed a fresh Kappa Delta Pi certificate with her name and the date on it. When I saw her after the classroom dedication, I gave her the folder with the certificate and the creed.

I thanked her for everything she has done for education students and asked if we could take a picture with her.

This picture includes Kappa Delta Pi members old and new, as well as Freddie and Frieda Falcon, with Muriel Hutchinson Strebe in the center.

This picture includes Kappa Delta Pi members old and new, as well as Freddie and Frieda Falcon, with Muriel Hutchinson Strebe in the center.

A teacher, a Falcon, and a Kadelpian for life.

Kristen Tabesh is a 4th year student at Bowling Green State University and the President of the Delta Phi Chapter of KDP. She is a Middle Childhood Education major with concentrations in Language Arts/Reading and Social Studies. Kristen has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, and she absolutely cannot wait to have a classroom of her own.

Read more of this story on the Bowling Green State University page.

The Power of Teaching to Make a Difference

Hello! My name is Marisol, I am an elementary school teacher and an instructor at my local state university. Let me just say that it is great to be able to be a part of this blog and share my experiences with you.

photo-on-2013-04-07-at-00-03Before I go further, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

First of all, I have known since FOR-EV-ER that I loved to teach. I played “teacher” nearly everyday with my little brother and sister (they were my first guinea pigs… I mean students). I also recruited our upstairs neighbors to be part of our escuelita (Spanish for little school). I had a total of four students. I was pretty sophisticated in my teaching approaches.

Of our three-bedroom apartment, one room was completely dedicated to escuelita. I had four little tables, little chairs, a black board, desk, and a real grade book. My mother had used her financial aid money to purchase the grade book at her campus university.

I gave her dittos that I made and asked her to make copies for me at her school. I created songs, a class schedule, and even differentiated instruction!

My students were different ages—my sister and her friend (our neighbor) were five. Her brother was seven, and my brother was nine. My brother has Down Syndrome, so I had to make his work specifically designed for him. So, in a way, I was also doing classroom inclusion.

Escuelita lasted many years. I learned a lot and so did my “students”. Those students and their families are now long-time friends.

Fast forward many years, and here I am now—a teacher and an instructor in the field I love the most: education!

It seems however, that teaching and going to school, are not as “fun” as it use to be.

As society changes, so do our schools, our students, and our communities.

As teachers, we keep running this way and that way just to keep up with the tides of change. And oh gosh… the pressure! The pressure we face on a daily basis coming from so many directions. We don’t get enough time to decently plan our lessons, make copies, get ready for class, grade, or even EAT!

Woah. Just thinking about the daily responsibilities of a teacher is overwhelming because only a teacher knows the dynamic ways in which we are called to function. This takes a toll on us physically and emotionally.

I am writing this blog post because I want to share with you a story that has helped me navigate my six years of teaching and to remain passionate about my calling (job).

The school I first worked at is located near the Mexican-U.S. border. The whole school qualifies for free lunch. It is in a low-socioeconomic area. The school serves about 1,300 students. I say all this to give the reader some context instead of creating a pity attitude towards the population in this area. I feel like I need to bring this issue to the forefront of my discussion because there are many that have unconscious or conscious biases about students and their families who are labeled as low-socioeconomic.

While there are a ton of things that I could talk about in my experiences at this school, I am going to focus on parent involvement.

This is because I recently had a colleague say, “Oh, I wish I could engage the parents to advocate for their children and to develop an understanding about the expectations of how children have to act in school.”  The school that my colleague works at is in a high poverty area. There is violence at the school, sometimes against the teachers themselves.

I can only imagine the type of feelings this teacher is experiencing. There are so many different layers to these problems.

Let me just say that I do not assume to know all the answers or even all the “layers” to the problems. What I can share is my perspective and ideas about difficult environments in teaching.

When I first got hired, I rented an apartment near the school I would be working at. I wanted to live in the same neighborhood as my students.

I am so glad that I did, because I grew so much professionally and personally.

20140211_163333_16793011447_oMy first year teaching, I taught second grade, and in this class, I has a student named Awesomekid (yes, I obviously changed his name for the purpose of this blog). When Awesomekid came to my class, he could not read or even write his name (his real name is 5 letters long). He had already been retained in first grade. Some teachers suspected a learning disability. They would say things like, “Oh yeah, Awesomekid’s mom does not care. She has like four other kids, and they are all the same. She never comes to any of the meetings”.

Awesomekid’s behavior was also a big problem. He often got into fights at school and talked back to teachers. When he was sent to the office and administration called home, there was usually no answer. Administration was all too familiar of Awesomekid and his family.

You see, although most teachers and administration knew Awesomekid and his family, they did now know him or his family. Awesomekid was a fellow neighbor of mine because we both lived in the same apartments. I developed a relationship with all my students—Awesomekid especially, because of how often I saw him. I learned so much about him just from what I saw after school.

First of all, his mother worked two jobs—yes TWO jobs. His older sibling was in charge of watching her other brothers and sisters. She was a freshman in high school.

Awesomekid was ALWAYS outside. This explained why he did not bring in his homework or it was not complete. There was sometimes not anyone to help Awesomekid after school. If I saw him playing outside I always asked him if he had done his homework. He knew that if he needed help, he could always ask. Awesomekid rarely asked for help, though. I had tutoring after school and he would get most of his work done there.

Other students of mine also lived at the apartments, or very nearby. There were times I had many students and their little siblings come knocking at the door to say hi. If the ice-cream truck happened to pass by at the same time I would get ice-cream for all of them (now that I think about it those coincidences may not have been coincidences). I loved sitting on the curb talking to all of them and eating ice-cream.

I taught him how to read and write (this could be a whole other blog because this journey was also beautiful).

Awesomekid’s grades and behavior improved dramatically.

I also got to know his mother. We became friends. It was obvious that she cared very much for her children. She later confided in me and shared that she had never really felt welcomed at school. While we spoke about different topics, the one thing that she always told me was how thankful she was about all the work I had done with Awesomekid.

Contrary to the school’s narrative, Awesomekid’s mom cared—she cared very much.

img_3241I believe this is one of the many lessons that I learned through teaching.

Sometimes we may perceive that parents don’t care because they do not participate in school activities. We expect parents to come to school functions, to be “involved” in their student’s academic development; we want to see the parents volunteer, to pick-up or drop off their kids. If we don’t see these, we then counter with ideas of uncaring parents.

In this case, Awesomekid’s mom worked two jobs, and she could rarely attend school functions. Most of the time, she was too busy to even help her kids with homework and relied on the older siblings to help the younger ones. Despite all this, she was a very loving mother, and she sacrificed so much to make sure her children had a place to live and food to eat.

What scared me the most about this experience is the thought of, “What if I had never gotten to know Awesomekid’s mom?” or, “What if I never knew about Awesomekid’s living conditions?”

These thoughts terrify me because they make me realize that I might have misjudged Awesomekid’s mother in a very unfair way. I would have been so absorbed in my beliefs that I would have unintentionally set lower academic standards for Awesomekid. I wanted the parents to come to the school and be present in the school, and hear what the school had to say instead of the teacher—ME—going to the parents, making house visits, listening what the parents had to say.

The power of teaching works both ways.

The first is the power that we, as teachers, have to make an impact on a student’s life. The second—and for me the most beautiful—is the power that teaching can have on our own way of thinking.

While each of us will face different obstacles in our teaching career, let us remember that our calling is a noble one and one that has great power to make a difference.

I know that the times I felt like quitting (seriously, I thought about just walking out the door sometimes), I felt afraid, I felt frustrated, and I felt unappreciated.

During those moments, my strength came from thoughts of students such as Awesomekid. His smile, him writing his name, him reading, and him coming to visit every school year.

That renews my passion and somehow gives me the strength to continue in this field and love it more each day.

Operation Literacy Engaging Everyone

We don’t know his name, or that of his older sister, but we were still moved when he exclaimed, “I love Dr. Seuss! Daddy can I take this one?”

chapman-literacy1We glanced at one another excitedly as the boy clumsily pulled the Seuss work out of the book station we had just inaugurated. His sister found one, too, and was proud to be like her brother, book held high above her head.

Smiling, his father asked him which books he was going to bring back for other kids to take.

As they walked away hand in hand, the boy, his sister, and their father continued their conversation about books, and about reading. We were filled with a sense of gratitude for a moment that brought our vision of free neighborhood book stations to life.

These seemingly unplanned moments where learning connects families, communities, and each of us to a deeper self are what we live for as educators and future educators.

This year’s Literacy Alive! project brought many such moments to the members of Chapman’s Chi Beta Chapter.

Each year, the chapters of Kappa Delta Pi connect around a national literacy campaign called Literacy Alive! to “create programs and events in their communities that bring empowering literacy skills to their participants.” This year, more than 150 projects were submitted nationally, adding up to 57,052 people served and 44,625 books collected for distribution. As a chapter, Chi Beta was recognized for its partnership with a local initiative: Operation Literacy Engaging Everyone (Operation L.E.E.) in Anaheim, California.

Operation L.E.E.’s Facebook page reads, “We are a group of community members out to promote literacy and spread the love of reading in our community by providing book stations with free books.” The book stations are located at various homes and businesses in Anaheim, and represent a true community effort. A vision of local educators, the book stations are filled with donated books that anyone can borrow or take or donate. Operation L.E.E. started with five book stations and hopes to increase that number throughout Anaheim and in other interested cities.

chapman-literacy2Our first adventure with Operation L.E.E. was at the South Junior High School Service Day, where Chapman’s KDP members were tutored in making book stations by students. The amazing woodshop teacher, Chapman alumnus Matthew Bidwell, guided us around the classroom while seventh and eighth graders made assistants of us and demonstrated their mastery of carpentry. It was a fun and exciting day of building book stations from instructions, wood, and know-how.

As future educators, we talked about how it reminded us that our students will always be our greatest teachers, and that our classrooms can be spaces for doing good.

chapman-literacy3We also helped sort more than 500 donated books, prompting a recognition of our community’s generosity and spirit.

As book donations rolled in they were collected at the home of Operation L.E.E. leader, Juan Alvarez. A local educator and parent, Juan welcomed a collaboration with Chapman, and KDP members helped distribute books to book stations around Anaheim. Juan also welcomed us to his home, where we hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Operation L.E.E. at the location of the first official book station.

chapman-literacy4Here, Operation L.E.E. was presented with congressional recognition from Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and the book stations officially went live!

In recognition of the success of Operation L.E.E., KDP awarded Chapman’s Chi Beta Chapter with a Silver Award.

chapman-literacy5As the project continues to grow, you can help by donating books, providing funds or materials to build more book stations, or volunteering to host a book station at your home or business (contact operationleeoc@gmail.com).

It was exciting for us to help support local educators who are moving beyond their classrooms to make an even greater impact in their community. And we were able to practice engaged citizenship by helping local educators bring a model program into fruition.

In addition to strengthening our relationship with one of our partner districts in Anaheim, we also developed new partnerships with other collaborating organizations such as Los Amigos de Orange County and the Anaheim Public Library.

chapman-literacy6Toward the end of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we had our serendipitous visitors, our first book station patrons, and they knew exactly what to do. For us, it was like watching from a distance—watching our efforts and those of the community sprout into an opportunity.

For the father and his children, it was a seemingly spontaneous moment to talk about reading.

But we saw meaning in our project and could envision many such moments happening at this book station and at others around the city. Operation L.E.E. had come to life, and Chapman’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter helped make it happen.

Guest author Anat Herzog is an educator who has a deep love for her students and their families. She is a doctoral candidate at Chapman University and Literacy Alive! Coordinator for the Chi Beta Chapter of KDP. Her eventual goal is to open a school based on the pedagogical principles of John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

Partners in Loving the Children: A New Year’s Wish

Whitney_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. Anne Whitney, Associate Professor of Education at Penn State University. Read her full article, “Partners in Loving the Children,” in The Educational Forum.

Happy New Year! I always think of back-to-school time as the Real New Year, for in my family of two academics, an elementary school student, and a preschooler, fall truly is the starting point by which we mark all of our time.

We celebrate this new year by finding new shoes that fit, checking jeans for holes, and sharpening pencils. We open our journals to fresh pages and set fresh goals. We get our carpet cleaned after a summer of dirty bare feet, and we clean out the area by the front door where we put our jackets, shoes, and backpacks.

In the days leading up to the start of the new year, my daughter pines for the letter that will tell her who her teacher will be. When the letter arrives, my phone starts to buzz with questions from other parents: Who does she have? Who do her friends have? What do you think of Mrs. X? In our small community, this is typical parent information-sharing. We all want a good teacher for our kids.

But to my daughter Emily, just starting the fourth grade, it’s more than that. She’s asking: With whom will I spend my days? Upon whom will I be relying as I try new and difficult things? Under whose wing will I recover on bad days? Under whose influence will I grow?

The first few weeks students spend with their classroom teachers will shape a new and important relationship.

I take this relationship as seriously as Emily does. Kylene Beers explains in her often-shared meditation on why she “hated” her daughter’s first-grade teacher: “Though I had been a teacher for years before having Meredith, before sending her off to first grade, I had never truly understood the power of a teacher in a child’s life.” It’s like that for me, too. I have been forging relationships with teachers for my whole career, whether as a classroom teacher myself or as a teacher educator. But my sense of the stakes in these relationships changed when it was my own kid. And specifically, they changed most when the going got tough, as I describe in my article in The Educational Forum. When my own daughter was struggling with reading, the love with which her teachers surrounded her—and me, as her parent—helped her in school, but also helped me become a better parent.

Here is my new year’s wish for all kids returning to school: May you enter a classroom community characterized by love. May your year in school be a joyful year in your raising. May your schooling be a team effort. May your teacher be a fierce champion of you and what you need. May your parents, teachers, neighbors, and country join in a great and mighty fight for the loving learning that you deserve.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Whitney’s article free with the education community through September 30, 2016. Read the full article here.

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A Legacy That Lives On—Especially In My Life

John HickeyAllow me to introduce you to the best, hardest working, and most exasperating teacher I ever had:

Mr. John Hickey, my 8th and 9th grade English teacher.

I have often marveled at his teaching methods. My class had Mr. Hickey for 2 hours each day for 2 years. He integrated literature, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting, and composition thematically in brilliant ways. On Fridays, he assigned a piece of literature to read over the weekend. We read everything: Longfellow, Asimov, Frankl. After a discussion on Mondays, he assigned a writing prompt derived from the literature to be addressed in our weekly essays.

In general, the first half of class dealt with vocabulary and grammar lessons. Mr. Hickey used a technique he called “parsing.” Basically, parsing entailed labeling real sentences from oral language and literature as exercises to teach us the building blocks of language, which are the building blocks of thinking. During the second half of class, we wrote the drafts of our weekly essays. On Wednesdays, we turned in our essay drafts for his review.

One of my distinct memories is Mr. Hickey’s leaving school at 5 p.m. carrying a huge stack of 90 essays home to review.

On Thursdays, we got our drafts back with red ink everywhere. The grammar mistakes had been marked, with written comments about our thinking, organization, structure, word use, etc. I have no idea how he graded 90 essays in one night in such detail. We revised our essays in class and turned them in on Friday for a final grade. The following Monday, Mr. Hickey returned the graded essays and shared some of them aloud. He gave two grades for each essay:  one for mechanics and one for content.

I watched my writing improve weekly, and not just mine—everyone in class improved. We did scientific, persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive, creative, essay, and editorial writing, and our minds were broadening.

Mr. Hickey opened up the literary part of my soul and flamed the fire with his own passion for literature and the written word.

Having Mr. Hickey as a teacher was a love-hate relationship. His expectations were very high. One of my favorite memories centers around a test. We begged him to postpone the test because we had a big football game away and would be late coming home on the busses. His reply was given with an index finger pointing into the air: “Only God can prevent this test tomorrow!”

The next day, one of the student workers in the office sneaked on to the school-wide intercom system. “Mr. Hickey, Mr. Hickey. This is God. Don’t give that test 5th period. That is all.” To the amazement of the 5th period class, Mr. Hickey collapsed into hysteric laughter. He laughed so hard, great tears began to roll down his face. And the test was postponed until the next day.

I am so grateful for Mr. Hickey’s influence in my life.

I opted to take a double major in English and Biology at university. When I got there, I tested out of the first two years of English composition and realized just how well he had prepared us as I looked around at my fellow English majors struggling with university level work.

Mr. Hickey taught for 34 years until his eyes began to fail.But retirement was not on his agenda. He hired a reader, went to seminary, and became a Catholic priest, serving first in Mexico, then in Texas.

Last fall, he passed away. But his legacy lives on in the lives of all his students, and especially in mine.pleblanc 2011

Dr. Patty LeBlanc is Professor of Education and Co-Chair of the Ed.D. program at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. She is actively involved in the writing process with her doctoral students.

Claribel Riss Goes the Distance

Claribel RissClaribel Riss (member since May 2015) was chosen as the Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE) speaker for commencement which takes place Thursday afternoon, June 16 at New York’s Lincoln Center.

Not only has she traveled at least 75 miles from her home in East Stroudsburg, PA. to her job as a teacher at a Bronx middle school for a number of years, but she has also made the trip on Sundays to attend Touro College GSE in New York City, where she earned her second master’s degree this year in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

Riss was born in the Dominican Republic. She majored in Spanish, her first language, as an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo. Claribel had taught 11 years when she earned her first master’s degree from Touro College GSE in special education.

Currently a special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Riss teaches grades 6 through 8 at New Venture Middle School, a ‘renewal school.’ Despite the challenges she was told to expect working with students who have behavioral issues, she says, “I always go in with an open mind, because children act differently with different adults. I try to give them a fair chance, to get to know them, what kind of learner they are, and how they learn.”

“TESOL is not bilingual education,” she said, adding that today there is much more diversity among learners. “We have students who speak Arabic, or Urdu (the language of Pakistan) and students from Yemen. It’s like going around the world and learning about life and education and feeling enriched.”

Riss’s approach speaks to that diversity. “I like to know where they come from and their cultural background. You have to address the culture. You can’t just say ‘you are in the United States now and get with the program.’”

To become acquainted with her students, Riss interviews their parents and helped develop a survey that addresses “what they know, what their deficits are and how to get to know them,” she said, adding, “I can help students succeed in a country that might be strange to them.”

Riss is so well respected in the education community, she was offered a partial scholarship towards training in administration by her principal. However she declined, “I said no. Administration is not for me; I like being in a classroom.”

Claribel, a mother of two, has been a straight-A student and is graduating with an MS in TESOL with a 3.88 GPA. Her dedication to the teaching profession and her students is evident in all she does.

Dr. Sonna Opstad, Associate Professor of TESOL/Bilingual Education at the GSE, praised Riss as an outstanding student who took extra care in everything she did. “Her attention to detail, high standards, and exceptional insight were evident in every assignment. She contributed to our work in a constructive and thoughtful way. She is truly an inspiration to her colleagues and to me,” she said.

Congratulations from your KDP community, Claribel Riss!