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Monday, March 17, 2008

UNCP hosts 4th annual Second Language Symposium

Building strategies for teachers to become factors in the success of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students was the theme of the 4th Annual Second Language and Minorities Symposium on March 7 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Keynote speaker and 2004 Teacher of the Year Lizbeth Alfaro

Keynote speaker and 2004 Teacher of the Year Lizbeth Alfaro

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A diverse group of more than 100 teachers and soon-to-be teachers from North Carolina counties, near and far, attended.

Keynote speaker was Lizbeth Alfaro, 2004 Teacher of the Year in North Carolina and an English as a second language teacher (ESL) in Catawba County. Born in Costa Rica, she advised teachers not to be intimidated by the language gap while reaching out to students.

“I speak Spanish, and in my school we have many students who are Hmong,” Alfaro said. “I don’t speak Hmong, but that is not the main challenge. The challenge is stepping out of our own culture, our comfort zone.”

She encouraged teachers to reach out to diverse students and make their classrooms home to the global society. Too many LEP students drop out and too many are members of gangs, Alfaro said.

Miss Lumbee 2008 Jocelyn Hunt entertained

Miss Lumbee 2008 Jocelyn Hunt entertained

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“Bring them hope instead of rage,” she said. “Caring and effective teachers can have a positive effect on LEP students.”

Alfaro encouraged teachers to advocate for change in the law that would give help and hope to LEP students by:

  • Allowing LEP students to participate in federally-funded Title I reading programs;
  • Placing more LEP students in gifted programs by adopting appropriate measurement standards and;
  • Giving hope through increased opportunities to attend college.

“For many of them you are the only hope,” said Alfaro, who said she spoke no English when she arrived in the U.S. as a 16-year old. “Education has transformed my life; education can set you free.”

Dr. Zoe Locklear, dean of UNCP’s School of Education, said the conference remains important in its 4th year.

“We made an effort to bring all of our student teachers here for this important conference,” Dr. Locklear said. “This conference remains an appropriate and timely issue.”

The conference included entertainment from the Lumbee Tribe and African dance from UNCP’s African-American Student Organization.

African dancers Bahgi Soloman of Ethiopia and Candy Pambu of the Congo enetertained

African dancers Bahgi Soloman of Ethiopia and Candy Pambu of the Congo enetertained

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The conference was coordinated by Dr. Jose Gomez, a faculty member in UNCP’s English, Theatre and Languages Department. He noted the international flavor of the symposium participants in the room who were born in countries ranging from Romanian to Argentina.

“This group of teachers in North Carolina is becoming very international,” Dr. Gomez said. “We celebrate our diversity and the diversity of our students.”

Small-group sessions were titled:

  • “Accelerating Learning for the LEP Student,”
  • “What’s Happening in the World of ESL?”
  • “Parental Involvement with Latino Families,”
  • “Sink or Swim for Reading and Math in an Inclusive Environment,”
  • “Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic and Cultural Barriers” and
  • “Managing an Optimistic Learning Environment.”

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