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Report from Back to Our Roots! 2004 State Conference
ESOL/Bilingual/Migrant/Refugee Education

Spiritual Renewal in Central Kansas!

"Back to Our Roots" was the theme of this summer's 2004 Kansas Migrant/ESOL/Bilingual/Refugee Conference, held June 9-11, at the Airport Hilton Hotel in Wichita. The annual event, sponsored by the Kansas Association of Migrant Directors, the Kansas Department of Education's Office of State and Federal Programs, and the Kansas Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and Bilingual Educators (KATESOL/BE), was organized by a committee including Cynthia Adcock, Ron Johnson, Melanie McCoy, Steve Wolf and Donald Blackman.

Jo Gusman gave a rousing opening session, "Diverse Brains, Diverse Learners: Understanding the Complex World of Your ESL Students." Dr. Gusman ties together brain research, second language acquisition theory and her own experiences as a classroom teacher to bring to life concepts such as "affective filter" and "comprehensible input," as well as the multiple intelligences popularized by Howard Gardner. "Everything in the classroom revolves around relationships," said Dr. Gusman. "Take the time to understand all the relationships." Jo Gusman's New Horizons in Education is a company which makes practical resources available for teachers and schools to help build inclusive classrooms and positive academic experiences for English language learners.

For me, the "Back to Our Roots" theme had another layer of meaning, as the drive from Hays to Wichita took me along roads through Raymond and Alden, the route my family used to drive from Great Bend to Sterling on our way to church every Sunday and where I had not traveled for nearly a quarter century. The dark green shelter belts, golden yellow wheat fields and open horizon brought back deep feelings of nostalgia. From Sterling, I continued to Hutchinson, where I visited overnight with close relatives before taking the "Yoder road" to Wichita for the conference. Along the way, I picked up some "pulaparts" at the Dutch Bakery and paused for a slow-moving horse-and-buggy typical of the Amish around Yoder.

The first afternoon of the Migrant Ed conference in Wichita, I knew there was one session I had to see: Dr. Anh Tran's "Asian Communities: Formation and Ethnic Identity." Dr. Tran is the Director of the ESOL Endorsement Program at Wichita State University. She immigrated to the United States in 1981 after she and her husband, along with other Vietnamese refugees, drifted rudderless for five days in the Gulf of Thailand before reaching shore safely.

Dr. Tran described the process by which a cultural enclave develops into a more established community, and explained movements of Asian American populations across the United States. The reasons for these trends, according to Dr. Tran, are typically better climate, rejoining relatives and friends, and better jobs. Anh Tran also explained the "Third Generation Return" hypothesis, put forth by Marcus Lee Hansen in 1952. By this hypothesis, first-generation immigrants maintain the values of their cultural traditions; the second generation assimilates to a greater extent to the larger society and does not give much attention to the cultural values of their country of origin; the third generation, according to Hansen, returns to an appreciation of traditional values and tends to be more like the first generation than the second.

Language is a crucial component in ethnic identity, according to Dr. Tran, because "language marks boundaries between one's ethnic group and others'." She gave four reasons why language is such an important aspect of ethnic identity. First, language is one of the major criteria for ethnic group membership. Second, it is used by "outgroup" members to categorize individuals. Third, language provides an emotional component to ethnic identities. And fourth, it facilitates "ingroup" cohesion.

Dr. Tran described how she moves between the use of English and Vietnamese when interacting with her own children. If she is correcting their behavior or enforcing rules related to school responsibilities, she tends to use English; when she is praising her children or giving emotional support, she uses Vietnamese. Another key factor is that her mother, who later followed Dr. Tran to the U.S. from Vietnam, lives with the family and provides further reinforcement for the use of Vietnamese language and culture.

Wednesday evening was the "Around the World in 80 Bites" banquet, with a delicious array of salads, pasta, roast beef, egg rolls, and many more foods as well as rich desserts. Entertainment was provided by the DGPT Buu Quang Temple Buddhist Youth Association of Wichita, whose students performed traditional Vietnamese dances, including the use of colorful dragon costumes and other costumes typical of the different regions of Vietnam. The music was infectious and the dancers moved throughout the room, interacting with conference participants and completely enchanting everyone there.

One of the great things about the yearly Migrant Ed conference at the Airport Hilton in Wichita is that there is so much time to touch base with fellow practitioners from across the state. I found myself pausing every few steps on my way out of the first evening's banquet, to speak with friends and colleagues from KSDE, school districts and universities. This happened whenever I started heading anywhere, and it was wonderful to rekindle conversations and debates with so many dedicated educators as well as with the publishers representatives, who are just as well versed in the issues and concerns related to the challenges of helping culturally and linguistically diverse students in Kansas schools.

Here is a list of the publishers' representatives who displayed at the Kansas Migrant/ESOL/Bilingual/Refugee Conference this year:

ABACA Books, Inc. (Mary Ann Boyd)
Alta ESL/Byeway Books (Cheryl Miller)
°BŽlingŁe! (Arla Jones)
Big Books by George / Pacific Learning (Dorothy Hagen)
Cambridge University Press (Gerald Govia)
Cultural Kaleidoscope (Margie Tritt)
Delaney Educational Ent. Inc. (Dian Prasko)
ESOL Library / ESU (Beth Hanschu)
Great Source Education Group (Marsha Krabbenhoft)
Hampton Brown (Lucy Church)
Healthwave (Arnetta Bynum)
Kansas Farmworkers Health (Cyndi Treaster)
New Readers Press (Manley Higgins)
Kansas Parent Resource Center (Sally Holman Hebert / Nancy Kraft)
Plato Learning, Inc. (Rich Coleman / Randy Cookus)
Scholastic (Angela Carroll)
SRA / McGraw Hill (Joe Towers)
World Book (Evelyn Dillon / Dorv Conell)
Wright Group McGraw Hill (Kay Laake)

There was one individual at this year's conference who shook hands with adoring fans everywhere he appeared: Juan Rocha, the original KSDE Migrant Education Consultant, who took part Thursday morning in a general session conversation with Ron Johnson, current Migrant Education Consultant at KSDE. The first ESOL programs in Kansas were administered by Mr. Rocha in the early 1980s before there was even a post at KSDE for an ESOL Consultant. Juan Rocha's arrival at the Migrant Ed Conference in Wichita was a homecoming and his status among Kansas educators is similar to that of a classic rock star among fans of "real music."

Continuity with the past was also emphasized in another general session which brought current KSDE ESOL Consultant Melanie McCoy together with former KSDE ESOL Consultant Dr. Kim Kreicker to discuss changes and developments. They traced ESOL in the state back to an early TESL program for EFL professionals at the University of Kansas, then followed by the first ESOL endorsement program in the state, at Fort Hays State University, officially started in 1989 with coursework taught by Cris Chalander and Celia Nicholson. However, in an informal conversation in the walkway with several experienced teachers from Garden City schools, it was pointed out that Cris Chalander was already traveling to Garden City to give in-services from FHSU in 1987, and the first ESOL endorsements were organized with the help of Don Stull, now at the University of Kansas. Once again, it appears that all ESOL and CLD paths lead back to Garden City eventually.

I could not miss the opportunity Thursday afternoon to attend a session by Dr. Abdeliah Sehlaoui, Director of Emporia State University's ESOL Endorsement Program, and Dr. Kim Kreicker, of Emporia State University, on "Islam and Muslim Students in Kansas Schools." Dr. Kreicker has taught a large number of Muslim children in Lawrence public schools, and Dr. Sehlaoui is originally from Morocco and practices the tenets of Islam.

The five pillars of Islam, according to Dr. Kreicker, are: faith, prayer, fasting, charity and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). Dr. Sehlaoui explained the deeper meaning of each of these aspects of the Muslim religion, while Dr. Kreicker recounted examples from her experience of how she and her colleagues had adapted school policies to show respect for the practices of Muslim students. One example is the need for teachers to be aware of strict fasting during Ramadan, a special month for Muslim families. Fasting will usually not involve students younger than 11 or 12, explained Dr. Kreicker, but sometimes younger children also participate. The fasting between dawn and dusk during Ramadan includes not consuming water, Dr. Sehlaoui added.

There were a large number of questions directed to the speakers from audience members, who wanted to know why certain things are done and also seemed intrigued by similarities among Islam, Christianity and Jewish beliefs and practices.

In response to a question about the fasting that accompanies Ramadan, Dr. Sehlaoui asked teachers to remember that if a child accidentally takes a drink of water he or she should not feel guilty. "If you forget and break the fast accidentally," he explained, "that is a gift [from Allah]." Asked how Muslims know which direction to face towards Mecca at the five different times every day when they must pray, Dr. Salim Sehlaoui produced a Palm Pilot with a program which points him in the right direction.

Thursday afternoon there was also a general membership meeting of the Kansas Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and Bilingual Educators (KATESOL/BE). The organization is now 208 members strong and the annual KATESOL/BE conferences are well attended. There was much interest in the site and dates of next spring's conference, and First Vice President Kristin Grayson promised to have that information confirmed very soon. She did announce that the conference planning committee has chosen "Technology and Language Teaching" as the overarching theme. Secretary/Treasurer Debra Stevens gave a report on KATESOL accounts, which are stable and expected to sustain the organization's projects for the foreseeable future.

Click for more information about KATESOL/BE 2005!

Several KATESOL/BE members expressed deep concerns about the new Praxis test which is required for the State of Kansas ESOL Endorsement. It was suggested that the applied linguistics section of the test is very rigorous and out of proportion with the teacher education standards for ESOL Endorsement Programs. There was open discussion of this matter, and a two-pronged approach was initiated. KSDE will be contacted regarding our concerns with the test, while at the same time there will be sessions at the spring KATESOL/BE Conference to provide members across the state with clear information to help them understand the test content better.

In order to read the opening report by the KATESOL President, delivered at the general membership meeting, click here. This report mentions several other key initiatives for KATESOL/BE.

Another feature of this year's Migrant Ed Conference was the "American Indian Intertribal Dance Performance," led by the Ramona and Norman Roach family of Gallup, New Mexico, and joined by the Mid-America All-Indian Dance Troup, Thursday evening, June 10th, in the four main ballrooms at the Airport Hilton. These dancers shared American Indian ceremonial dress, ceremonial and traditional dances including men's and women's fancy dance, shawl, buckskin, grass, Navajo, pow wow style and inter-tribal dances, Indian music with flute and drums, songs of prayer and storytelling.

The Roach family represents the Sioux, Lakota, and Navajo cultures. Ramona and Norman Roach are teachers in Gallup, New Mexico. The Mid-American All Indian Dance Troup represents tribes from Kansas and the Midwest.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Roach family earlier in the week when Migrant Ed and bilingual education activist Donald Blackman introduced us. There was also a one-year-old baby boy with the group, Blue Star, perhaps this year's youngest dancer.

A recounting of the Migrant Ed Conference would not be complete without mentioning Judi Kutzke, administrative assistant in the Office of State and Federal Programs at KSDE. She was continually on the move, making sure everything went smoothly. Although her work for three days (and weeks and months in advance) was hectic, she always had time to give a smile and share a word or two, before zooming off to another responsibility.

The dates for next year's Migrant Ed Conference are already set: June 8-10, 2005. See you there!

Report by Robb Scott

This page was last updated on 06/15/2004.