Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) marked the completion of a highly successful program that helped Long Island and Westchester teachers to better serve thousands of English-language learners in the metropolitan area.
On June 26, the Bilingual Education/ESL Teacher Leadership Academy (BETLA)honored its fifth and final cohort of students at a celebration on Fordham’s Westchester campus. Launched in 2010, BETLA helps Long Island and Westchester County teachers who serve English-language learners (ELL) to become effective instructional leaders, staff developers, and mentors.
“This was a bittersweet event, because it was the end of a special grant we had from the New York State Department of Education,” said Anita Vazquez-Batisti, Ph.D., associate dean and founding director of GSE’s Center for Educational Partnerships, which runs BETLA. “Fordham was the only university to receive the grant, and it has been highly successful.”
The program, which was the first of its kind for Westchester and Long Island, was made possible through a $4 million grant given over four years. It joins Fordham’s Bilingual ESL Resource Network serving all of New York City.
New York State Assembly members David Buchwald and Shelley Mayer, representing Westchester, including Yonkers, emphasized the importance of the work Fordham is doing around the metropolitan area.
“Schools today are experiencing increased numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students, yet studies show that the large majority of teachers and administrators are not prepared to address the needs of these growing populations,” said BETLA Director Nancy Rosario-Rodriguez.
“That’s why BETLA is so important and must continue. BETLA is designed to directly address these concerns by preparing highly qualified future leaders […] who have a deep understanding of the academic, cultural, and linguistic needs of students.”
Monica Pullows-Tetuan, an ESL teacher at Bellport High School, South Country School District, who represented BETLA’s fifth cohort, said that ELL students are often the “forgotten children.”
“Being an ESL or bilingual education teacher requires a particularly high level of commitment to our students,” she said. “Their gifts and needs are often overlooked, so, in turn, we become their advocates, their cheerleaders, their counselors, their interpreters, and their voices.
“This work, when done wholeheartedly, can be daunting, and to create positive change we must fuel ourselves with knowledge, hope, inspiration, and wisdom. BETLA has been a remarkable fueling station for the work that remains to be done.”
BETLA participants attend a three-day summer institute, visit school sites, and receive ongoing professional development and leadership mentoring at Fordham and at their own schools.
The program includes full tuition for 15 graduate credits toward a certification in administration and supervision. In addition, participants can receive a 20 percent tuition reduction to complete a master’s degree in administration and supervision toward obtaining a New York state school building leader certification. More than half of the 146 BETLA participants returned to Fordham to complete their master’s degrees, Batisti said.
Should the education department renew its call for proposals, BETLA is more than ready to continue its work, she added.
“ELL students are growing tremendously in the suburbs. The schools are really desperate for guidance and for more help in providing quality instruction for these youngsters,” Batisti said. “If each of our 150 [BETLA] teachers has a minimum of 30 students in their class, then that’s 4,500 students who benefitted from the advanced-degree training their teachers receive.
“Fordham really rose to that occasion and put together a highly successful program to meet the need of ELL students.”