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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​RIC alumna Elisa Rivera, a second-grade, dual-language teacher, works with her student ​on reading​.​

Like many school districts across the country, Rhode Island’s public school system is facing one of the fastest-growing populations of English language learners (ELLs). This population now represents eight percent of all students statewide and 23 percent of Providence students, according to U.S. Rep. James Langevin '90. The problem is that there aren’t enough teachers certified to teach these students. Hundreds of ELL-certified teachers are needed. And Rhode Island College is responding to that need.

As the state’s leading institution in teacher education since its founding in 1854, RIC prepares more teacher candidates for certification than any higher education institution​ in the state. For the past 18 months, RIC’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development (FSEHD) has been collaborating with top state and national thought leaders on the redesign of its curriculum for teacher preparation programs. The new curriculum will now ensure that every graduate is endorsed to work with ELL or special education students.

The FSEHD has a 25-year history of training teacher candidates to work with ELLs. Under RIC Professor Emerita of Educational Studies ​Nancy Cloud’s leadership, the FSEHD’s ​program was awarded national recognition by NCATE/TESOL in 2010 (NCATE is now CAEP) and​ continues to maintain that status. The FSEHD​ ​offers an M.Ed. in teaching English as a second language (TESL), with a track for the preparation of bilingual/dual-language teachers, as well as certificate programs in TESL and bilingual education.

Elisa Rivera, a second-grade, dual-language teacher at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Central Falls, earned her B.S. degree in early childhood education at RIC in 2008. Five years later, she earned an M.Ed. in TESL, with a bilingual education concentration. 

After reading “Biblioburro” to her students, Rivera asks them to
give ​a thumbs up if they enjoyed the story.

As a teacher, Rivera engages her students in learning by providing a classroom environment that promotes collaboration, creativity and exploration. 

She gives her students choices throughout the day, so that they feel a sense of ownership in their learning. 

And she uses culturally relevant bilingual books in her dual-language classroom so that her students can see themselves in literature and know that despite – or perhaps because of – the uniqueness of their experience, they are valued.

She said RIC Professor Emerita Nancy Cloud, who led her graduate-level ESL courses, helped her understand the importance of the ELL’s native language. 

“A student’s primary language is a big part of their identity,” Rivera said. “It should be viewed as a valuable resource which can be, and should be, maintained as students acquire and develop English language proficiency.”

Another RIC mentor for Rivera was Professor of Elementary Education Leslie Sevey. “Professor Sevey taught me how to create an optimal learning environment for students and how important it is to provide students with the tools and opportunities to explore, inquire and learn through play,” Rivera said. “Both of these professors formed my teaching philosophy and shaped me into the teacher I am today.”​

By the end of the school year, Rivera’s hope is that her students will leave her classroom not only equipped with increased knowledge of the academic content​ but with life skills. 

“My hope is that I have fostered a love of learning,” she said. “I want my students to feel confident, empowered, supported and prepared for the next school year. I want them to know that although they will move on to the next grade, they will always be my students.”

With the state’s rapidly changing demographics, the FSEHD is responding ​by preparing its teacher candidates to be culturally responsive to diverse populations and to effectively teach ELL​s. 

As the FSEHD redesigns its curriculum it​ also hopes to redesign its teaching facility. RIC is on the ballot this November as bond referendum Question #2. If approved, the bond will provide $25 million to renovate​ the infrastructure and technology of Horace Mann Hall, home of the FSEHD.

“Today’s schools are being designed with diverse students in mind,” said Gerri August, co-interim dean of the FSEHD. “We need a building that models the interactive environments future teachers will be entering when they graduate. We need to prepare teachers to interact with students in ways that students find meaningful. When the quality of teacher education excels, the delivery of learning in pre-K-12 classrooms excels.”