“Often we are isolated as teachers. We work in silos and rarely have the chance to connect with colleagues. Therefore, I really appreciated that the courses were project-driven and that we were encouraged to interact through the HuskyCT/Blackboard discussion boards. I’m now a part of a cohort of like-minded educators that continues to this day.” – Joelle Budzinsky, Spring 2021 Graduate, Educating Bilingual Learners Online Graduate Certificate program
Joelle Budzinsky earned 12 credits from the University of Connecticut (UConn) Educating Bilingual Learners Online Graduate Certificate program. She’ll apply the credits to a second master’s degree, which will allow her to become TESOL- (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certified.
Getting out of the Classroom Silo
Joelle Budzinsky knows a lot about teaching bilingual students. After all, she spent nearly three years in Barranquilla, Colombia overseeing the school-wide implementation of Project Based Learning, grades K-12. While there, she learned a lot “on the fly,” as she describes her experience. She also discovered something even more important:
“I loved being a language teacher in Colombia. But I wanted a richer knowledge about why certain teaching approaches work better than others. There are so many ways to learn a language. I wanted to become better at helping kids learn to talk and engage with language in ways that were personally meaningful to them. At the time, I knew what worked, but I didn’t know why. I was looking for a more formal educational experience to help me understand why something works—knowing the why would help me internalize the how.”
As a University of Connecticut (UConn) graduate, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2009, Joelle had some connections at the university. She reached out to Karen Lapuk, the bilingual coordinator at Connecticut River Academy, to ask about getting the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. Karen encouraged Joelle to apply for the Educating Bilingual Learners Online Graduate Certificate program, a 4-course, 12-credit program for practicing educators who want to strengthen their skills to better support English learners in school.
On her way to earning a second master’s degree
Joelle immediately applied, and once accepted, she began the program during the summer of 2020, taking two courses right off the bat, then one course in the fall and the final course in the spring of 2021. She is now planning to start a second master’s degree at UConn, a requirement for her to become TESOL-certified. “Best of all,” she says, “The 12 credits I earned from the Educating Bilingual Learners Online Graduate Certificate program can be applied to my second master’s.”
Starting anything new during the summer of 2020—at the height of the pandemic—wasn’t easy. But notes Joelle, because the certificate program is 100 percent online, not even a pandemic could stop it from being given! “As a classroom teacher, there are so many demands on my time. The online nature of the program made it so easy because I could do the assignments on my own time,” says Joelle.
Making life-long connections
The online platform also enabled her to connect with educators across Connecticut and beyond. “Often we are isolated as teachers. We work in silos and rarely have the chance to connect with colleagues. Therefore, I really appreciated that the courses were project-driven and that we were encouraged to interact through the HuskyCT/Blackboard discussion boards. I’m now a part of a cohort of like-minded educators that continues to this day. We have a texting group, we check in on each other, and we have even met outside of the program,” notes Joelle, who adds: “It is so helpful to learn about teaching approaches in other districts.”
Joelle also raves about the program’s content and in particular, having learned entirely new concepts that she had been unfamiliar with, such as sheltered instruction. “This method has been transformative in the way that I present and plan lessons. It basically calls upon us to consider various factors that influence how a student learns material. It could be something as simple as slowing your speech, including visuals, or practicing ‘translanguaging.’ I had never heard of this concept prior to the program, but essentially it teaches you how to incorporate the student’s first language into your lesson materials.” This is no easy task considering there are over a dozen languages spoken at Connecticut River Academy, a magnet school in East Hartford, CT, where Joelle is both a Capstone teacher and English Language Development (ELD) teacher.
One of the online courses Joelle especially “loved,” as she said, was EDCI 5875 – Multicultural Education. “This was not about learning a skill or methodology per se, but rather about mindset. It helped us focus not on the deficit students may have because their first language is not English, but on their assets. I loved this so much. If you don’t think students are capable, you’re missing the mark.”
Modeling good teaching
And most of all, Joelle describes the instructors as “fabulous!” While she really liked all her professors, she especially appreciated how Dr. Elizabeth Howard, associate professor of bilingual education in the Neag School of Education and the certificate program’s director, taught. “Liz models the pedagogical strategies she teaches, for example, when she was covering the four domains. It wasn’t that we were only writing, but her teaching methods also focused on engaging, listening, and reading. She modeled good teaching by the way she taught!”
In summary, Joelle says: “So many education programs are steeped in theory. But in this program a lot of time and focus was spent on learning practical strategies. In fact, every week, I learned something that I could implement in my classroom the following week.”