Fairfield University Graduate School of Education continues commitment to bilingual multi-cultural programs

Image: Billing and DiazProject BELL (Bilingual Education for Language Learners) is the latest in a series of bilingual multicultural projects that the Fairfield University Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions has conducted since 1972 when it introduced its first bilingual courses.

Offered in conjunction with the Bridgeport School District, Project BELL enrolls teachers who are certified in a subject matter or grade level and have been referred to the program by the City's director of Bilingual Education. The teachers must be able to speak both English and a second language fluently. After passing a language proficiency test in the second language, they take an additional 18 credits and become certified in Bilingual Education.

Dr. Julianna Poole, S.S.N.D, who chairs the Bilingual/Multicultural Department of the Graduate School of Education, explains that, "If an individual is both a certified teacher and is fluent in English and Spanish and able to pass Praxis II for Spanish, the state's proficiency exam, then they only need to take 18 credits to be certified in bilingual education. In education, it's called a "cross-endorsement."

Fairfield recently completed a federal grant, called Project BET, which provided Bilingual Education Teacher certification in conjunction with the cities of Bridgeport and Norwalk, notes Sister Julianna. "We're pleased to say that in 1999, 23 individuals received their master's degrees and bilingual education certification and are now teaching."

Although she has become a skilled administrator and is a pioneer in the field of bilingual education, Sr. Julianna's heart is still in the classroom where her love of other cultures, especially of Spanish origin, began. It was 1953 when she first traveled to Puerto Rico as a young American nun to teach English to Spanish-speaking children in a mission there.

"When I arrived in Puerto Rico, I was not a trained teacher of English. I began teaching in an elementary school and I learned Spanish from the children. What I learned was professorial Spanish - the Spanish of the people," Sr. Julianna commented.

During 29 years in Puerto Rico, Sr. Julianna finished her undergraduate degree and taught English to school children. It was challenging to teach at certain times of the year, she says, because the children often traveled with their families in search of work. "Tobacco farms brought a tremendous number of Puerto Rican people to Connecticut. During January, sometimes half of the children would be missing from school because their parents went to work on these tobacco farms, and the children went with them."

Ironically, it was the tobacco farms that kept her in touch with some of her former students after her return to the United States in 1982. "One of my assignments after I returned was serving as a vice principal in a Hartford school. I ran into many of my former students from Puerto Rico there. Even today, spending a lot of time in Bridgeport schools, I still run into former students."

After returning to the United States, Sr. Julianna earned her master's and doctoral degrees, and is now completing her 12th year at Fairfield University.

"I still go into classrooms in Bridgeport and, to me, it's still all about making relationships," Sr. Julianna mused. "In Bridgeport, as well as anywhere else, people look for expertise and professionalism. Whatever school I go into I see how hard people work to fulfill their responsibilities."

Today, as she oversees programs that include Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Bilingual Multi-Cultural Education, she couldn't be more delighted with the University's commitment to bilingual education and its collaborative efforts with local cities. A journey that began when her religious order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, sought volunteers to teach English to Spanish-speaking children in a mission in Puerto Rico, has become a life's work of helping others bridge language and cultural gaps.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 17, 2000

Vol. 33, No. 6

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