Denise Gonez-Santos, executive director of the Erie 1 BOCES Regional Bilingual Education-Regional Network, speaks in front of an enthusiastic crowd during the Multilingual Matters conference Feb. 11 at Niagara University.

More than 180 school district and school administrators, teachers, teaching assistants and instructional support staff spent the day at Niagara University on Feb. 11 for a Multilingual Matters conference.

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., NU president, welcomed and praised the room of committed educators – some of whom came from as far away as Jamestown and Cuba, N.Y. – for their work with the children and families of English as second language (ESL) learners.

The conference was sponsored by the Erie 1 BOCES Regional Bilingual Education-Regional Network (RBE-RN) West in collaboration with New York State Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) and New York State Association for Bilingual Education (NYSABE).

It was the first event hosted in the expanded area of the Dining Commons at Niagara University.

NU’s executive vice president, Dr. Debra A. Colley, is a past-president of NYSABE and previously served as a bilingual special education teacher.

“We are pleased to work with the state associations and with RBE-RN to prepare the highest-quality teachers for students who are English language learners,” Dr. Colley said. “As partners, we must continue to be the advocates for children and families – all children, particularly children who are English language learners. Your leadership matters more now than ever.”

Dr. Tamara Alsace, NYSABE’s current president, spoke of the strong commitment of TESOL and bilingual educators around the state and the need for more teachers certified in bilingual and TESOL education.

Among the topics covered during the event were parent engagement, cooperative learning strategies, co-teaching models, instructional technology, and requirements and supports for English language learners.

Anne Henry, president of NYS TESOL, shared her personal story of coming from Vietnam in 1975 as a child refugee with her mother. Her story sensitized the lives that refugees endure and the compassion she has for those unsure of their immigration status and the threat of deportation.

Denise Gonez-Santos, executive director of RBE-RN West, recognized Patricia Wrobel, executive director of the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement at Niagara University, and Carol Beebe, director of the Teacher Quality Leadership Partnership Grant (TLQP), which is funded by the New York State Education Department. Wrobel and Beebe were commended “for their contributions and exemplary leadership in teacher education devoted to meeting the needs of English language learners in Western New York.”

The conference highlighted the critical need for TESOL and bilingual teachers, both locally and nationally. Niagara University offers both an undergraduate and graduate program to prepare teachers of English for speakers of other languages (TESOL) and works directly in partnership with school districts and statewide associations on the placement of new teachers as well as the training of practicing teachers who are interested in securing teaching certification in TESOL.

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