Julie M. Coppola Scholarship Students Reflect on Their Experiences
The Julie M. Coppola Scholarship was founded as a way to celebrate and continue the fervor for bilingual and biliteracy education that Dr. Julie Coppola exhibited throughout her career. The scholarship recognizes students who, through their work, have shown dedication and commitment to bilingualism and biliteracy. The scholarship’s 2016 recipients have reflected upon their experiences while at SED, the importance of the scholarship, and the value of a strong support system for those beginning their journeys into this specific area of educating.
Their reflections can be read below:
In our middle school beginner ESL class, we begin every day by journaling. Sometimes there are prompts, sometimes we free journal, but we take five minutes each day to write down every thought that comes to mind. Then, we share with the class. Though simple, it is a beautiful activity, one that has brought the dreams, hopes, worries, and fears of my students into clearer focus.
One day, students were prompted to think of any moment in their life that scared them. As the facilitator of the discussion, I imagined we’d giggle while remembering monsters under the bed or practical jokes. This is middle school, after all. But I was met with something much different. A beloved student started off the conversation, grimacing as he remembered his scariest moment: when his legs were so red he thought he would collapse. As a refugee, he had spent a month walking to the United States from El Salvador. As soon as he finished, others showed solidarity with similar stories of pain and bravery. We all hugged another student as she cried, describing her painful separation from her mother. Another told us of the time when he met his parents for the first time in the United States, at fourteen years old.
As a first‐year teacher, I’ve come to confront the reality of what walls, borders, and arbitrary travel bans do to our most precarious students. In this particular moment of open bigotry and racism coming from the top quarters of our society, classroom moments like these happen with shattering frequency. And I imagine my classroom is not the only one. So, the biggest question I’ve faced is —what can I do as a teacher to interrupt this unabated stream of hate?
Teachers are not trained to deal with the traumas of border crossing and rampant racism and xenophobia. And we can not change the society in which we live from the confines of a single classroom. But teachers have a huge amount of power— to treat our students as whole humans, to value their experiences, to be anti‐racists in thought and action, and to value every unique thought and contribution that our students bring with them.
Finally, and most importantly, we have the power to tell our children that they are not without agency. That, even in the darkest of moments, they have the power to transform the world around them if they choose to use their beautiful, unique, bilingual voices.
I am extremely grateful to have been chosen as a recipient of the Julie M. Coppola Scholarship. Thanks to this opportunity, I have been able to reengage with the community of educators at SED and bring fresh ideas about teaching reading to my ELL classroom. In 2010, I had the privilege of being one of Professor Coppola’s students at Boston University. I fondly remember the day she came into class bleary eyed, admitting she had stayed up late finishing her copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Professor Coppola led by example, showing us that nourishing a passion for books was crucial to developing lifelong readers.
I have been heartened to see that this culture of reading extended beyond Professor Coppola’s classroom at SED: it is a way of life among the professors here. Professors Jimenez, Soutter, and Dobbs (who I took courses with this spring and fall), share that same excitement, filling their lectures with recommendations of high quality books and authors for young adults. The result is that I have an ever-growing list of titles that represent diverse authors and voices: just the kind of literature I need for the population that I teach.
The enthusiasm of these professors has also given me a perfect model for how to cultivate an engaged community of readers in my own classroom. Last year I implemented daily sustained silent reading in my middle school classroom, coupled with biweekly visits to the school library. It was immensely satisfying to see a student who was allergic to books at the start of the year become engrossed in texts on NASA and military history. I have learned so much more than I can mention here. I am grateful and honored to continue to work in Professor Coppola’s memory towards providing better literacy instruction for bilingual students.
Now that I am in my third year of full-time teaching, there are still times I miss being a student at Boston University’s School of Education. I was fortunate to be able to take two additional courses this past summer as the Julie Coppola Scholarship recipient, in order to support my work as an ESL teacher in a bilingual school. Taking courses as a practicing teacher allowed me to think critically about my own teaching and consider ideas through the lens of my bilingual ELL students.
One of the most critical ideas that stuck with me from the courses is the idea of the linguistic and cultural assets that my students bring into the classroom. ELL students’ native languages are often seen as a hindrance to their English development, and they are not encouraged to become bilingual. I work hard to always view my ELL students’ linguistic resources as assets for learning, and build on the cultural capital that they bring from their families and communities.
This year I have been focusing on my teacher language, and how I can talk to students in a way that encourages them to bring their ideas and questions to our class. Many of my kindergarten students come to my classroom with no English and no prior school experience, yet they have a wealth of background knowledge and experience to draw from. Through my language I try to foster a student-centered community where my bilingual ELLs can thrive. Though I am not always as successful as I would hope, I am learning and improving every day, just like my students.
Michael Caprigno, Alexandra Buchalski & Emily Trono
Our coursework allowed us to strengthen our literacy instruction to emerging bilingual students and develop a school-wide plan to better suit their needs.
For example, we reflected and improved on our process for teaching annotation and reading strategies by using common language and sentences starters. This strategy allows students to self-monitor their comprehension and allows us to collect valuable data to inform our instruction. Course texts emphasized the importance of drawing on and continuing to develop literacy in students’ first language in order to support second language acquisition. As a result, we created lessons that included translanguaging, as well as lessons that emphasize the similarities and differences between students’ native languages and English.
In addition to enhancing our classroom instruction, we also made structural adjustments to student course sequencing. Conversations during our weekly seminars brought us to the conclusion that our transitioning bilingual students required additional language support in their English Language Arts classroom. This led to identification of a cohort of students that could benefit from additional scaffolds to achieve success, and we created a curriculum-based intervention to target their needs.
Lastly, our coursework helped us to rethink the intake process of our newcomer students. We created a native literacy assessment to gather data in order to develop a more complete profile for individual students. We also created a more robust Ambassador Program, where students are paired with a “buddy” that is typically from their home nation to discuss school norms and routines, and to serve as cultural mediators throughout the year as they adjust to schooling in the United States.
We appreciate the Julie M. Coppola Scholarship for providing us with an opportunity to enhance the learning of our students and better support them in our school as they transition to a new life in the United States.
As a reminder, the call for 2018 Coppola Scholarship applications will go out this September, so please frequent the page below for updated details.
If you’re interested in helping future recipients of this scholarship, please visit this page to donate. For more information regarding the Julie M. Coppola Scholarship, visit its page here.