One of my plans for retirement, aside from traveling as much as possible, was to focus more attention on advocacy. It was difficult to do this while working for a school for two reasons. One was obviously time. Visits to many of the people at the local and state level needed to occur during working hours. Secondly, such visits were discouraged by the district because they wanted their 'authorized' representatives making the contacts. One of the biggest problems with that is those representatives did not understand the issues specific to second langauge students. And for obvious reasons, district lobbyists were concerned about big picture issues, not the more specialized ones of our field.
Consequently, after attending a national Advocacy Day sponsored by TESOL in Washington, Bev Good and I decided to begin a state level campaign. It began with the concerns over the ramifications of the third-grade reading guarantee. We were really just part of a group in that campaign, which actually saw an extra year granted to our students before they will be retained. A small but exciting victory. We saw that our voices would be heard and could make a difference!!
The next step was meeting an official lobbyist for the Latino Commission of Ohio, Mr. Nolan Stevens. While at a meeting of the Ohio Refugee Advisory Council, we discussed our separate interests and realized that they overlapped in many aspects. Bev and I met with Nolan at his office and mapped out a strategy for meeting with the people who had influence in the areas of concern. We decided to start with the Board of Regents, the organization who oversees post-secondary programs in Ohio and various influential legislators.
Our first visit was with a member of the Board of Regents and two employees of the Ohio Department of Education. We discussed our desire to have all pre-service teachers better trained to work with ELLs upon their graduation. A tentative standard had already been drafted that was proposing that all education programs in Ohio prepare teachers to work with diverse cultures and communities. We requested that the board consider adding the wording of 'diverse languages, cultures and communities.' We were told soon after that the board had agreed to our request and had actually added 'diverse language origins, cultures and communities.' The new standard is now going to the legislature to make the new verbage part of Ohio code!!
While we still have many areas of concern and many changes we would still like to see at the state level, we have been able to see some movement and hope for the future. Change is slow and we will surely not be able to see all the changes we would like, but it is nice to see that advocacy does work. Small victories are the imputus to continue the battle.