Bolstering literacy one classroom at a time

Two Fairfield University professors lead literacy initiative at Bridgeport school

Image: Anne CampbellWhen the State of Connecticut earmarked $6.6 million to help the lowest performing schools in the state, Principal Hector Sanchez at Bridgeport's Cesar Batalla School saw an opportunity. He hoped to expand teacher training to target the school's English language learners, a population that makes up 30 percent of the 1,100 students in the large, urban pre-k-8 school, as well as learners with special needs.

Enter David Zera, Ph.D., and Anne Campbell, Ph.D., both associate professors of Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP). They worked with the leadership at Cesar Batalla to conceptualize and write the S.T.E.L.L.A.R. Partnership Project (Specialized Training for English Language Learners and Reading). The $200,000 grant will allow for 10 teachers to take the course "Reading and Language Development for English Language Learners and Students with Special Needs" with Drs. Zera and Campbell, who will also provide school-wide professional development during the 2014-2015 academic year. The grant also provides a stipend for teachers in the class to serve as grade-level literacy leaders for one year, allows for the purchase of materials, and funds the hiring of a literacy liaison.

Image: David Zera"Poverty, lack of life experiences, and a less developed linguistic preparation in English may put students at a disadvantage, especially at the high grade levels," says Dr. Campbell, associate professor of TESOL and bilingual/multicultural education. "They must learn English and keep up with academic content at the same time." Most of the students who need help are native Spanish speakers (71 percent), but students from Asian language groups (3 percent) also form part of the population at Cesar Batalla. Additionally, 99 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

"Language use varies between cultures, as well as between groups in the same society," said Dr. Zera, associate professor of psychology and special education. "Very often, the student has never been exposed to or taught the ways language is used in school settings, and that puts him or her at a disadvantage compared to native English speakers."

"This a golden opportunity for the teachers at our school to receive professional development that is both relevant and specific to the needs of our students and our teachers and delivered by two experts, Drs. David Zera and Anne Campbell," Sanchez said. "We also believe that these literacy strategies will not only help our English language learners and students with special needs but will benefit all of our students."

For more information on the program, contact Dr. Campbell at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2873.

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950,

Posted on September 3, 2014

Vol. 47, No. 37

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