Rutgers GSE Wins 2018 National Best Practice Award for the Conversation Tree Program

Earlier this year, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) honored the GSE with the 2018 AACTE Best Practice Award in support of Global and International Perspectives for its local-global initiatives through “The Conversation Tree: Community-Based Language Partnerships” Program.

The Conversation Tree Program — a partnership between Rutgers GSE and the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service — provides opportunities for adults to participate in English, Spanish, and Mandarin conversations in informal settings called Conversation Cafés. Rutgers students participate through curriculum-based service learning in three academic courses offered in the GSE Urban Social Justice Teacher Education Certification Program and the Global Education minor. The Conversation Tree is a critically important program as about 30% of households in New Jersey speak a language other than English. Since its launch in Spring 2012, more than 150 Rutgers student facilitators and 85 community facilitators have served over 8,000 hours interacting with nearly 1,000 community members at twelve different community partner sites.  The program affirms multilingualism, while empowering both community members and Rutgers students. Community partners for the program include the New Brunswick Free Public Library, Youth Empowerment Services, New Labor, Highland Park School District, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Rutgers Global Services, Rutgers Center for Latino Arts and Culture, and more.

This award is given annually by AACTE to recognize exemplary educator preparation in the intercultural, global, cross-cultural, and international arenas. AACTE selected The Conversation Tree Program to receive the award for its engagement of students in culturally responsive pedagogy and ethical action in their community as well as in academic discussions of how their teaching reflects best practices in social justice and language education research.

“The Rutgers GSE faculty and staff members have developed many opportunities to support the development of GSE students’ global and international perspectives, and our students have a robust, comprehensive array of research, teaching, and service options through which they can develop and enhance their global competence. The GSE’s global and international efforts align with the GSE’s strategic plan distinction goals of promoting diversity, equity, social justice, and effective teaching and learning,” stated Rutgers—New Brunswick Interim Provost Wanda J. Blanchett. “We are grateful to AACTE for recognizing our work as having met the high standard of ‘Best Practices in Global and International Perspectives’ as it is truly a tremendous honor, and I applaud our students, faculty, and staff for their efforts as we continue our journey of ‘Advancing Excellence and Equity in Education’ in New Jersey and beyond.”

“Rutgers GSE is dedicated to building inclusive communities, and accordingly, has developed significant and intentional partnership activities with New Jersey school districts and communities.  The Conversation Café is one illustration of this work that provides opportunities for students and community members to build new social networks and foster inter-cultural understanding,” said Rutgers GSE Interim Dean Clark Chinn. “We are honored by the AACTE’s recognition of our work to bridge research and practice in communities and build relationships between diverse community members who are learning from each other.”  

The Conversation Tree Program is empowering for both community members and Rutgers students according to Mary Curran, Director of Local-Global Partnerships at the GSE. “One of the goals of the program is to develop the intercultural competence of Rutgers students,” stated Curran. “We want them to gain the skills to sympa-thetically interact with those for whom English is a new language. Thus, the program is mutually beneficial to both Rutgers students and community members.”