By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–It has been a busy year for the New Neighbors Education Center (NNEC) at IU Southeast.
Building upon the legacy of founder and former Director Dr. Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez, current Director Dr. Donna Albrecht, associate professor of education, has set her sights on expanding the center’s reach. A series of events and initiatives has transformed her vision into action, giving an indication of where the program is headed.
“The traditional role of New Neighbors was to train teachers, which was the goal of the original grant,” Albrecht said. “Now we’re asking: How can we be a catalyst or convenor for other sectors of the community who are all trained to do similar work? How can we benefit one another?”
For Albrecht, the best way to answer that question is to bring people together and talk it out.
Within Albrecht’s first year as director, the New Neighbors Education Center hosted the Indiana Department of Education’s Summer Professional Development event for teachers of English learners (EL), as well as two ENL Institutes for Instructional Design for English learners in content areas of elementary and secondary education; served as regional coordinator of the Indiana Language Roadmap project (a federal grant overseen by the IU School of Global and International Studies’ Center for the Study of Global Change); and started a regional ENL Leadership Group that facilitates discussion on how to serve local schools that are part of the EL program.
These events brought some of the state’s leading practitioners to the IU Southeast campus for discussions of best practices in ENL education that are directly relevant to everyday classroom challenges in area schools.
One of the most intriguing and successful events has been the Institute for STEM Strategies for English Learners, which addressed cultural obstacles in what should be an area of maximum educational, social and economic mobility. This event was co-facilitated by Dr. Albrecht and Dr. Sumreen Asim, assistant professor of elementary science and technology education. During the Institute, educators from IU Southeast, the Indiana Department of Education and Hamilton Southeastern Schools shared best evidence-based classroom practices, as well as the results of their research.
All of this is happening in addition to ongoing activities such as providing local schools with professional development for working with ELs and culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families, as well as presenting family engagement events for EL families in schools. Upcoming events include the ENL/CLD Family Engagement Summit, featuring partners from across the state including Butler University, IUPUI, Purdue University and several schools.
“We want to expand the work of the Center beyond the educational realm, to facilitate the work that’s already happening with the community, fill in gaps where needed, and expand to other sectors, as in the area of cultural competency in businesses,” Albrecht said.
To this end, she has convened a Listening to Communities event supported by an Indiana Campus Compact grant.
“The point of the event is to reach out to the community that is serving newcomers, be they immigrants or culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) communities, whether they have been here for a while or not, and to find out how well we are serving their needs, educational and otherwise,” Albrecht said.
Listening to Communities is emblematic of Albrecht’s approach. It drew representatives from an astonishing range of organizations, including school corporations from West Clark, New Albany-Floyd County and Seymour; employers such as GE Appliances and Advantage Resourcing; nonprofits such as Kentucky Refugee Ministries; and academic units from Indiana University and IU Southeast.
Good things happen when you put well-meaning people in the same room. Through networking and a sharing of backgrounds and goals, the group could begin to identify areas of overlap, as well as gaps, in how individual organizations are addressing the needs of newcomers. The next step will be to draw more partners into the conversation, and increase the community of involvement.
“We ended at a new beginning,” Albrecht said. “But that is part of the vision, to facilitate the conversation.”
A workshop, Diversity in the Workforce: Fostering Inclusion will take place at IU Southeast on October 31, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., in UC 127. It is organized by the New Neighbors Education Center and will be led by Dr. Monica Lakhwani, a leader in diversity education and cultural competency. Participants from all sectors of the economy and community are welcome. For more information, please contact Donna Albrecht, Director of New Neighbors Education Center, at (812) 941-2594 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To register, visit the website here.
Homepage photo: Dr. Donna Albrecht makes a point during the Indiana Department of Education’s Summer Professional Development event for teachers of English learners.