The GSE and New Labor: Remote Community-Engaged Learning
With the call to remote instruction, Amanda Dominguez, community organizer and ESL program coordinator at New Labor, reached out to the GSE to collaborate on offering English classes for local community members looking for opportunities to practice English in a virtual context. To create this opportunity, doctoral student Anel V. Suriel, instructor of the Principles of Language Learning course (a required course for ESL, world language and bilingual educators), paired up with Dominguez to offer an English class for members of New Labor, a community organization in New Brunswick that educates, organizes, and fights for better work conditions and social justice in the workplace.
During the fall semester of 2020, the GSE and New Labor collaborated to offer an online English as a second language program with sessions focused on themes such as, Getting to Know You, Telling Our Stories, and COVID Work Safety. Dominguez began each session by introducing the topic, leading a warm-up, large group activity, and guiding the 33 New Labor member participants to enter breakout sessions where they joined 16 Rutgers GSE students for conversation activities. Each session ended with updates on current events and ways to get involved in advocacy efforts for local, national or global issues.
In order to design the curriculum for the English sessions, the team held a listening and brainstorming session with community members. Program coordinator Jessica Hunsdon worked with the team to create professional development modules to prepare GSE students for their roles as English conversation facilitators. The four video modules, Introduction to Community-Engaged Language Learning, Community Voices: New Labor, A Focus on Lesson Planning, and A Focus on Facilitation, are being revised and will be available for GSE faculty and community partners to use as they prepare for community-engaged activities.
In survey feedback, community participants responded positively to the program. One mentioned how “in addition to teaching English, the session helped me reflect on my safety, not only in work, but in daily life.” For future sessions, they requested these meaningful and urgent topics: talking to the doctor and health insurance professionals, discussing their children’s future with people who care for their children, taking care of the environment, and responding to discrimination.
According to Dominguez, “community-engaged language learning is so special because it highlights the specific needs of the community instead of following a strict lesson that was generically implemented. It allows for instructors to learn about who is in their community and their strengths and needs and allows the participants to learn the language and learn about resources and the support systems in their local community.”
With regard to the GSE students, Suriel says, “the most transformative aspect of this class is the community-engaged component. It brings theory to life in a real way that prepares teacher candidates to actively and critically put theory into practice to support language learning and advocacy for learners, while learning from the community.” Students in the class have expressed a desire to create similar programs for students’ parents in their school districts. This is exciting to hear as, in Suriel’s words, “our students become true ambassadors for change and community engaged work!”
These collaborative efforts are supported by the Chancellor’s Strategic Initiative Fund (SIF) grant, “Creating Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Community-Engaged Pathways to Teaching and Learning.” Associate Dean Nora Hyland and Dr. Mary Curran proposed the initiative around three goals: 1) expanding the involvement of community organizations—in addition to the school districts—in GSE partnerships; (2) strengthening GSE students’ and partner districts’ relations to their communities; and (3) improving the competencies of our students, our faculty, and district personnel in providing students with anti-racist teaching that is responsive to students’ cultural and linguistic diversity. The collaboration with New Labor is one outcome of the grant. Another outcome occurred in fall semester 2019, when a Spanish for Teachers professional development program was offered in the Bound Brook School District, in collaboration with Jacquelyn León, Bilingual/ESL Education Program Specialist from the New Jersey Department of Education. During spring 2021, we are hosting family math nights, and beginning to design community-engaged, anti-racist pedagogy and curriculum models for GSE programs as well as our PK-12 GSE-Community Schools Partnership Network.
More information about the community-based organization New Labor can be found here: https://newlabor.org/