Bridging the Gap: How One Program is helping Latin Americans in the D.C. Area

By: Ifeanyi Ezeh

As time passes and the United States continues to progress, it is inevitable that the country will become more diverse. One of the main ethnicities that is flowing into the United States are people of the Latino race. Many of them come into this country without a very good grasp of the English language. This makes it difficult for Latino immigrants to thrive or even survive in the United States. One program in Laurel, Maryland, the Washington English Center School at St. Mary of the Mills School, is looking to help immigrants get ahead in the U.S. by teaching the English language.  photo (1) (1)

It is about 6:50 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon at St. Mary of the Mills School. Many Latino adults are coming to take advantage of the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes offered here. Here program manager, Praneetha Arthur, along with a volunteer staff of teachers and tutors, aim to help immigrants in the Washington D.C. area by offering bi-weekly Adult ESL classes. They also offer weekly tutoring sessions for students who need extra help. The goal of this program is to help better the lives of these Latino immigrants in the United States by teaching them English. By doing this, it opens many doors for many of the immigrants to be successful.

Along with the students, many of the staff members also feel that they benefit from teaching in the program as well. Mark Gail, a veteran teacher in the program, stated that he did not see the volunteer work he did as work. In an interview he said, “The moment it feels like work I’ll stop doing it.” Kate Monagan, another veteran teacher, stated in an interview that she felt “called by God” to do the work. She also praised the diligence and tenacity of her students by saying, ”… they have jobs and work late hours but they still come to class…”. When I was asked about my experiences in the program and how it affected my goal of being a teacher I said that, ”It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be. But I still want to be a teacher.” I played the roles of both a tutor and an Educational Program Intern. Robert Goldschmidt, another veteran teacher, enjoyed seeing his students grasp concepts that they once found hard to comprehend. He said, “My favorite part is when students are able to understand something that they at first struggled with. There is then a nice sense of accomplishment for both students and teacher.”

The words of these teachers personify the goal of the program, to help teach adults English in an enjoyable way so that they can both survive and thrive in the United States. The program helps provide more opportunities for the students and a sense of accomplishment for the teachers and tutors.

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Getting Out of the Classroom–A Scavenger Hunt Near Washington English Center

This summer, a few of our volunteer teachers decided to get creative with their classes, from field trips at local museums to scavenger hunts in our neighborhood. With the wonderful weather we’re having in DC, thinking outside the box (or classroom!) can give students new opportunities they otherwise might not have. Taking photographs is an excellent way to encourage students to slow down and observe their environment more closely [they also had to improve their iPad skills in the process]!

Students found a friendly neighborhood pet in need of a good ear scratching

Students found a friendly neighborhood pet in need of a good ear scratching

Students wandered amid the various embassies near the school

Students wandered amid the various embassies near the school

Students found great examples of art nearby

Students found great examples of art nearby

On August 5, 2014 Willia Hennigan, Katherine Stevens, Penny Ojeda and Deborah Katz sent groups of students with iPads to take pictures on specific routes around Washington English Center. They searched for historical Art Call Boxes, embassy flags, animals, sculptures, fountains, unusual signs and parks. Along their route, they photographed what they found to be significant items that fulfilled each category of the assignment. In the classroom before starting out, the students viewed some examples of the different categories from the neighborhood and discussed how they use photos in their lives. Seeing the Neighborhood around Washington English Center Through Photography was adapted from the July 28, 2012 Scavenger Hunt in the Neighborhood Blog Post and Compelling Conversations Free Chapters

Groups of 4 students each.

With your group discuss the following questions:

  1. “A picture is worth a thousand words”

Do you agree? Why or why not?

  1. Why do you think it is important to take photos?
  2. What types of pictures do you prefer to take- still or video?
  3. Do you consider photography an art form? Have you seen a photo exhibit?
  4. Do you have any favorite sites for taking pictures?
  5. Share with each other what you have noticed in the area around Washington English Center. Can you remember exact places and their names?
  6. How might photographs help?

Today we are taking a tour of the neighborhood.

There will be three pre assigned groups.

Each group will have a specific route to follow to find certain sights in the neighborhood.

Your goal is to take pictures using the IPad and then develop a slide presentation about your route when you return to class.

Rules to follow.

  1. Stay on your route.
  2. Return to WEC by 11:40. (one hour)
  3. Speak English.
  4. Don’t enter any buildings or yards. All items are visible from the street.
  5. Take a minimum of 12 photos of your route and be prepared to share with the class.
  6. Everyone in the group will be expected to participate in the presentation.
  7. Walk slowly along your route in order to be able to notice the fine details of your area. What is special about your area?

Each member of the group is responsible for a job. These can be switched midway.

  •  Photographer
  • Recorder of each photo taken and location
  • Map and route leader
  • Lookout and timekeeper


What might you find? You must find at least one item from 7 of the following categories for a total of 12 photographs.

 Each route has embassies or chanceries with flags flying in front.

  1. Each route has Art on Call
  2. Sculptures
  3. Animals
  4. Unusual signs
  5. Buildings named after famous people or cultural institutes
  6. Parks, steps, fountains, books, flowers
  7. Interesting fences or gates
  8. A special item of your own choosing

Record the photos taken and the address on the listing sheet provided.

Route 1 has the most embassies. See how many you can find.  What else is unusual about your area? Look for the largest sculpture and several Call boxes. See map at end.

R on California Street

L on Connecticut Avenue

L on Wyoming Avenue

R on 24th Street

R on Kalorama

R on 23rd Street

L on California Street

Return to WEC


What might you find? You must find at least one item from 7 of the following categories for a total of 12 photographs.


  1. Each route has embassies or chanceries with flags flying in front.
  2. Each route has Art on Call See map at end with listings of Call boxes.
  3. Sculptures
  4. Animals
  5. Unusual signs
  6. Buildings named after famous people or cultural institutes
  7. Parks, steps, fountains, books, flowers
  8. Interesting fences or gates
  9. A special item of your own choosing

Record the photos taken and the address on the listing sheet provided.

Route 2 has several interesting animal sculptures, noted steps and a Friends Meeting House. Can you find them? What else is unusual about your area?

R on California Street

R on Phelps

L on S Street

R on Phelps

R on Florida

R on Decatur

R on 22nd Street

Up steps

L on S Street

R on 23rd Street

R on California

Return to WEC


What might you find? You must find at least one item from 7 of the following categories for a total of 12 photographs.

Each route has embassies or chanceries with flags flying in front.

  1. Each route has Art on Call See map at end with listings of Call boxes.
  2. Sculptures
  3. Animals
  4. Unusual signs
  5. Buildings named after famous people or cultural institutes
  6. Parks, steps, fountains, books, flowers
  7. Interesting fences or gates
  8. A special item of your own choosing

 Record the photos taken and the address on the listing sheet provided.

 Route 3 has a park with books, climbing equipment, a museum, a presidential house and much more. What else is unusual about your area? Are there stores?

R on California

R on Phelps

L on Leroy Street

R on Connecticut

R on Florida

R on S Street

Tour Mitchell Park

Continue on S Street

R on 24th Street

R on California

Return to WEC


For each photograph state what it is and the address.  What did you learn about your route? Be ready to share.


























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Advanced Plus Field Trip: Learning about the United States through Its Art

By Cathy Sunshine

On May 22, the Advanced Plus PM class took a field trip to the Phillips Collection, an art museum just a few blocks from Washington English Center. We saw “Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection, 1850–1970,” a special exhibition covering three floors of the museum. Ten students and two teachers enjoyed the artwork, with complimentary admission provided by the Phillips.

Students and teachers from the Advanced Plus PM class visited the Phillips Gallery to see American artists.

Our group included students from Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, France/Algeria, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Spain, and Sudan, plus two teachers.

The exhibition, which includes nearly 120 artists, begins with iconic American artists of the late nineteenth century and concludes with the abstract expressionists of the late twentieth century. Along the way, it reflects a society being reshaped by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration from abroad. Our students noticed that many of the American artists featured were born in other countries or were the children of immigrants from Europe, Russia, and other parts of the world.

“For me, it was a great opportunity to know American art, because I’ve never seen American paintings before,” said a Brazilian student. A student from Spain agreed: “I had always visited galleries with European art. I have to say that I was impressed by the American art.” A Sudanese student liked seeing “American scenes and social realism.” He commented, “I learned that United States society is a place that supports its inventors to draw the image of the country in their own way. The vision of expression of one day will not do for the next day.”

We asked each student to choose a picture that they would like to hang on the wall of their house or apartment. An Argentine student picked out Arthur G. Dove’s Red Sun: “I like Red Sun to hang on the living room wall. I like the color combination, simplicity, and realism. It’s like you have a sunset inside of your house. Very optimistic painting.”

Arthur G. Dove, "Red Sun" (1935)

Arthur G. Dove, “Red Sun” (1935)

A German student liked the pictures of New York, a city she enjoys. A painting by the German-born modernist artist Stefan Hirsch shows the Lower Manhattan skyline in 1921.

Stefan Hirsch, "New York, Lower Manhattan" (1921)

Stefan Hirsch, “New York, Lower Manhattan” (1921)

A Mexican student appreciated the Migration Series by African American painter Jacob Lawrence, which shows the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II.

Panel 1 from the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence (1940–41)

Panel 1 from the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence (1940–41)

Our Sudanese classmate chose the earthy paintings of Georgia O’Keefe. Ranchos Church, No. II shows an early adobe church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.

Georgia O’Keefe, "Ranchos Church, No. II" (1929)

Georgia O’Keefe, “Ranchos Church, No. II” (1929)

Just for fun, we also asked students to name a picture that they would not want to hang on the wall. Portraits of individuals and abstract works turned out to be least popular. “Abstract expressionism style confuses me. I feel puzzled. I cannot find meanings in the paintings, only a combination of colors,” remarked one student.

After spending time in the American exhibit, some students dipped into the European section of the Phillips, where they saw paintings by Renoir, Miró, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh, among others. Later in class, we talked about how the Americans were influenced by European art styles of their time, yet also departed from them.

All in all, a most enjoyable and educational visit!

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Teaching English Abroad: Advice for Teachers and Lessons Learned at Washington English Center by Devin Foil


Former Volunteer Devin Foil sharing Thanksgiving with his Chinese students

I teach English at in the little town of Pengshan, China. Whether or not my students are English majors, keeping them engaged is the priority and the challenge. The hands-on experience that I gained from the Washington English Center helped prepare me for teaching abroad. I really learned how to engage with my students, and connect with them. Below are some things that I learned at WEC, and have since practiced more of here in China:

Don’t rely too much on the lessons from the textbook
In my experience, following a lesson straight from the textbook can be very dull. It literally puts some of my students to sleep, and it really is no fun for the teacher. Textbooks are great guides and they are indispensable for grammar lessons, but they have no personality. This is where being a teacher is fun. I like to combine my own ideas with the lessons in the book. Sometimes I’ll show my students a YouTube video. Sometimes we’ll play a game that complements the lesson well. These kinds of activities get the students’ heads off of their desks and into the lesson.

Spending more time on your lesson plan is always worth the effort
A good lesson plan will always yield a good class session. I try to be as specific as I can in my own lesson plans. I tell myself small little details like, “Remember not to pass out the worksheets until after the recording is done, that way the students can focus on the listening first instead of fiddling with the worksheet.” These little details can be excruciating to insert in to the lesson plan, but I am always glad that they are there when I am teaching.

Pay attention to student feedback
It is easy to get defensive when a student gives some critical feedback, especially after you spent hours developing an awesome lesson plan. However, the student is usually right and his/her feedback can help your lessons immensely. I took the advice of a student from my discussion class, and everyone has enjoyed the class much more ever since (including myself). If your students don’t give feedback, then ask for it from one of your more vocal students. It is well worth the effort of asking. Just remember that feedback is not a challenge to your authority over the class, it is simply a suggestion from a person who knows how he/she would like to be taught.

General Thoughts on Teaching Abroad

I enjoy teaching English abroad, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested. There are times when it is very tough, but those times pass and you usually come out tougher and wiser. I have 4 pieces of advice that might help soften up the tough times:

1. Be open and have a sense of adventure. This is a little cliché, but let me explain what it really means. Having a sense of adventure means being ready for the little comforts of your normal life to be stripped away from you. Be prepared to sweat. Be prepared to be cut in line. Be prepared to be stared at…constantly. Be prepared to have the same conversation over and over and over and over again. Be prepared to not be able to explain yourself in sticky situations. All of these things make the adventure. You might have some cool traveling vacations, but those are the fun times. The adventure is being vulnerable in a culture that is not used to you.

2. Take care of your own self. What I mean is that that you should do everything in your power to make sure that you are A-OK. Just because you are a foreigner in a school does not mean that the administration will take it upon itself to ensure all your bases are covered. Ask questions. Always ask questions. Otherwise, if you miss something important, it will be your fault.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. Students will probably like you and they will probably ask you to speak at their club, go out to dinner with their class, or just chat for an hour in the coffee shop. The administration will want to utilize you. It’s paying for you to be at the school after all. It might want you to do a lecture, participate in English corner, and teach an additional class. If you say yes to all of these things, you will have no time left for yourself. When you are working in a foreign country, a little me-time goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to say no to students. They’ll get over it. The same goes for the administration, although that can be a bit trickier since it handles your paycheck. Gauge what you can get away with and what other teachers get away with, and plan your nay saying from there.

4. Working abroad is much different from studying abroad. You may want to teach English in the cool country that you studied abroad in as a college student. You may have fond memories of that country and want to relive some of those times. Don’t expect that to happen. Working in a foreign country is much different than studying in one. It makes sense. Working in the US is much different than going to school in the US. It’s no different abroad. You will run into all of the classic work/office problems and drama. That stuff exists outside of the US too.

After the first semester of school, student reviews were posted and I was ranked the #1 foreign teacher out of the 7 foreign teachers in my department. I am very proud of this fact. All the foreign teachers at my school, including me, have a TESL certificate. The difference between them and me is that I am the only one with previous experience. I gained this experience at Washington English Center. Without the hands-on exposure to real English classes that WEC provides for its volunteers, and without the support of my students at WEC, I would not have learned the skills that are necessary to be a good teacher. I am confident of that

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Effective Lesson Planning and Delivery with Your Co-teacher

Weren’t able to make the session on co-teaching on Saturday, May 3 at Washington English Center? Here are some ideas to plan and deliver lessons effectively with a co-teacher.

By Ashley Lipps

Co-teaching is when two teachers take a substantive role in the classroom. This model is different from teaching arrangements that see one teacher as the lead and the other as the assistant. Even if you are a new teacher and you rely on a more experienced co-teacher for a lot of guidance and ideas (or vice versa) both teachers take responsibility and should have the opportunity to plan and lead lessons.

There are many ways co-teaching can be realized, and Friend & Cook (2007) have observed six co-teaching arrangements. They were looking at the context of elementary to high school ESL, which usually sees an ESL teacher co-teaching with a content teacher (science teacher, language arts teacher, etc.). Although our situation is a little different at Washington English, it’s still a useful place to start thinking about what co-teaching can look like.

One teach, one observe

In this arrangement, one teacher leads the class while the other sits and observes students. The teacher who isn’t leading the class should still have a job to do. They can listen and make note of common student errors to review later in the class. They can correct the homework. They can sit with a student who needs extra help and work with them through the lesson.


One teach, one drift

In this arrangement, one teacher leads the class while the other circulates around the room, helping students are needed.


Station teaching

In this arrangement, there are three or more stations in the classroom, each with a distinct task. In groups, students circulate from one station to the next. Each teacher leads a station, and at the third and any additional stations, students work independently.


Parallel Teaching

In this arrangement, the class is split in two equal groups. One group works with one teacher and the other group with the other teacher. This arrangement is popular at Washington English Center for language practice activities and conversation circles. It allows students to do an activity and interact with a group, but a more intimate group so each student has more opportunity to speak and practice.

Of course, these half group conversation circles only work if the teacher can manage to not talk too much and dominate the conversation. This is a common pitfall because I think as English teachers most of us are naturally chatty people! But it’s up to the students to converse, share their opinion, and steer the direction of the conversation. The teacher is just there to answer language questions as needed and ask open-ended questions if the conversation lulls.


Alternative Teaching

This arrangement is similar to parallel teaching, the class is split into two groups- but one group has the majority of the students while the other is a small group of students who need more focused attention. This arrangement is helpful if you’ve got a small number of students who really need extra help and support.

A question that came up- How do you arrange the students so that those who need extra help don’t feel singled out? With parallel teaching this isn’t an issue because both groups do the same activity in the same way. But with alternative teaching, you want students who are farther ahead in one group, and those who need more work in a different group.

Often students know that they need a bit of help in one area, so they’re pretty understanding, and it’s not a concern. But if you’re worried about it, here’s my suggestion- Hand out cards of two different colors. It can be colored paper cut into cards, colored index cards, red and black playing cards, etc. It’s easy to make it look like you’re randomly handing out cards when really you’re handing out the colors intentionally. The stronger students get one color, and the weaker students get a different color. Then you can say students with this color, go work with this teacher. Then it’s about the card, not the student.


Team Teaching

In this arrangement, both teachers are simultaneously leading a class. This arrangement is very useful when teachers are modeling an activity. It can also be used when reviewing an activity that students have done in small groups or pairs, both teachers can elicit responses from students about what they discussed is their groups.



So which arrangement is best? There’s no one answer because it really depends on what the class is doing at the moment. However, Friend (2008) did write a few recommendations for using these arrangement, and she suggested using the station/parallel/alternative teaching arrangements more often than one teach, one observe/drift.

One reason to not rely too heavily on one teach, one observe is that often, I believe, it’s used as a cover of a slightly different arrangement- one teach, one just sit there! If one teacher leads, while the other is sitting observing, the observer really should have a job to do.

But another reason to recommend limited use of these arrangements is that one teach, one drift/observe arrangements are quite teacher-centered. These models work best when you are presenting new information. If you’re presenting new grammar, it can be best to just have one teacher explain it. However, this explanation shouldn’t take very long. The sooner you can get the class practicing the new grammar themselves, the better.

One question that came up Saturday- What if you’re explaining grammar and students just seem totally confused. I think the best answer to that concern is- that’s okay! If your co-teacher can explain the grammar in a unique way, then he or she can take a stab at presenting the new information, but if the students STILL seem confused, don’t worry. Grammar explanations are pretty confusing. The best way for students to understand how to use the grammar is to practice, practice, practice. So spend no more than 5 or 10 minutes explaining, and then start the practice activities and count on context and examples to clarify confusing grammar.

So you don’t want to spend much time with a teacher centered classroom. For me, it’s helpful to think of a seventh arrangement that I want to call “Both drift.” You want to spend as much time as possible in small group work and pair work, and after a small group activity has been set up, students talk in pairs or groups, and teachers circulate, helping out as needed. I say both drift, because it’s good to give students time when a teacher isn’t working with their group, especially if you have students who tend to talk to the teacher and not each other.


Whatever arrangements you and your co-teacher use, another of Friend’s recommendations is key- Discuss and plan beforehand to ensure that both teachers have a role. Plan explicitly what you will do, what your co-teacher will do, and communicate with your co-teacher. Even if you see both teachers team teaching and doing the same things, discuss this with your co-teacher so you’re both on the same page.

I have a lesson planning template that I want to recommend to get you started. This template asks you to describe your lesson in columns. Click the link to download the template:

WEC Lesson Plan Template for 2 Co-teachers


Time- How much time will it take? It’s difficult to predict, but jot down an estimate of how long an activity will take and by what time you expect to have finished, i.e. 15 minutes/7:30pm. Then if it’s 7:30pm and you’re still working, at least you know you’re behind and can decided whether to continue and make up time later or to wrap up the activity.

Task- What activity the class will do, page numbers, etc. I also find it helpful to write “whole class,” “small group,” “pair work,” and “individual work.” Then I can see at a glance if I’ve got enough small group and pair activities.

Student behavior- What will the students do? The students should be doing the most in class, so you want to fill up this column.

Co-teacher 1 behavior & Co-teacher 2 behavior- In these columns, write what each teacher will do. It should then be obvious if one teacher is not being utilized for an extended period of time, and you can reassess the activity to take advantage of both teachers.

I find myself writing across the co-teacher 1 & 2 columns when I want both of us to lead or do the same thing. Even if you’re not differentiating the co-teacher tasks, it’s helpful to write these out. Then your co-teacher knows what to do and they know that you want them to do it. If you write, “read questions and ask volunteers to tell the group what they discussed with their partners” then your co-teacher will know that they aren’t stepping on your toes if they do this.

Many of the issues that come up in co-teaching can be addresses with proper planning. Whether you plan with your co-teacher or each plans part of the lesson at home, be explicit and communicate with your co-teacher about what the students will do, what you’ll do, and what your co-teacher will do.



Friend, M. & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (5th edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Friend, M. (2008). Co-Teaching: A simple solution that isn’t simple after all. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 2(2), 9-19.

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