July/August 2021 Issue
June 14, 2021

5 Questions for... Monica Baker

Source: NYSUT United
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Monica Baker, NBCT, ENL teacher
Webutuck Teachers Association

1. During the pandemic, you made a special effort to connect with the families of your English language learners. Tell us about that.

I am always looking for ways to increase family engagement. Last year I was about to launch a new family literacy program, which would have taken place in the school building once a month. The anticipated start date was March 2020. The pandemic prevented the program from starting as planned.

I regrouped and decided to try it online. Every Wednesday night, students and their parents joined me on Zoom for bilingual books, discussion, and a hands-on project. The best part — the program grew each week.

Younger siblings, cousins, grandparents all started to join in.

It’s been the most successful family engagement program I’ve ever been involved with!

2. What kind of feedback have you gotten from your students?

They love Wednesday nights.

One student said she especially liked working on the art projects with her Mom. Another said he loves reading in both English and Spanish. One second grader said, “Wednesdays are special because it’s like Ms. Baker is in our house reading us a bedtime story.”

3. Will you continue your evening story times next school year?

As long as families keep showing up virtually, I’ll keep the program going.

Even when the pandemic ends, virtual programs and meetings are an effective way to ensure that families are connected to schools.

In-person events exclude families with limited transportation or childcare, or inflexible work schedules.

Hybrid options for families are more inclusive and should continue whenever possible to support family engagement in education.

4. What other kinds of support did you and other English as a New Language teachers provide during the pandemic?

Educators went above and beyond to support their students. My colleagues and I advocated for our students, volunteered to deliver food and supplies, and applied for grants in order to ensure that students had their basic needs met so that they could focus on academics. As an instructor with NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust, as well as the president of NYS Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, I also saw a tremendous increase in educators seeking out professional development to support their students. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate how we teach and connect and then make adjustments to support our students.

5. What are some of the lessons learned that came out of this crisis?

Virtual learning is not ideal, but it’s especially challenging for our multilingual students. Some of my remote students struggled with unreliable WiFi, crowded living conditions and limited resources.

We now all recognize that reliable WiFi is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

Many of our students and their families are still struggling with connectivity. We need to continue to advocate for affordable and accessible broadband to tackle the digital divide.

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