Nominate an Educator
We at WIDA feel that educators are heroes. They routinely go the extra mile to see their students learn and grow. Please help us celebrate the hard working educators in your life!
Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.
Briefly tell us why you think he or she is doing an amazing job. Please include the person's name, what they do, and contact information we can use to set up an interview. Thank you for helping us feature amazing educators of language learners!
Mary Ancinec: Featured Educator
Mary Ancinec (pronounced ON-chi-nets) has been teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for 16 years, including a stint in Colombia. For the past three years, she has served as the ESOL Department Head at John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, MD.
Q: Where do you teach? What grade(s)? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school?
MA: I am the ESOL department head at John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City, MD. I manage a department with 12 ESOL teachers, and I also teach two sixth-grade classes. I started teaching in 1997, at the college level, then in a middle school and preschool in Colombia. I came to Baltimore in 1999 and I’ve been here ever since teaching ESOL, in the first grade for two years, then as an ESOL teacher mentor, and now as the department head.
Q: What are your class, school and district like? Can you tell me a little about its location, size and about the composition of the student body?
MA: The city of Baltimore’s school district has approximately 85,000 kids, and of those 3,400 are ESOL students. My school runs from pre-K to eighth grade. I realized the school I work at is very special immediately after I arrived here. You walk through the doors and you don’t see a typical Baltimore city school. We have 340 ELLs and our total student population is 715 students, so we’re right at 48 percent for ELLs, with free- or reduced-price lunch eligibility near 100 percent. So the school is very diverse, and overall, our parents and families and kids are fantastic. They bring so much to the culture and the environment of our building. I can’t tell you how much I love this school. I love it so much I brought my own children here, even though we live 30 miles away.
Q: What benefits or strengths do English language learners bring to your school?
MA: They bring a whole host of experiences that the teachers can really tap into for learning and building a worldview. Our kids come from Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Mexico, and more, so each of them brings such different world experiences. Even our teachers learn from our students, like how kids look at math and math operations in different ways because they were educated abroad. They’ll do something a teacher has never thought to do, but back in Honduras or the United Arab Emirates, this is how they learned it. I think that’s why I like that my kids go here. They have friends from all over and they’re diverse. They bring different interests and love of different things into my children’s lives and into the school.
Q: How do you encourage ELLs to learn? How do you accelerate their language development and ensure their equitable access to content learning?
MA: We have become very engaged and active with trying to look at our kids not just being learners from bell to bell, but the larger issue of poverty and how it affects us as a whole school. Eric Jensen’s book Teaching with Poverty in Mind has been very helpful with that. Teachers now see that if a child isn’t doing his homework, it may be because he’s living in a row house with two other families, sharing one bedroom with several of his siblings. So it might be helpful if we can keep that student for 20 minutes after school so he can do his homework. It really helps that we have a wonderful staff that goes way beyond their job descriptions to do everything in their power to help their students.
Q: What specific things have you done in your school to get parents and the community involved?
MA: We have dedicated a lot of time trying to identify where parents need assistance and then we do our best to fill those gaps. What has helped the most in building our community has been our interpretation staff. We have three full-time interpreters who really are the heart and soul of school because they really know what the community needs. We work with the Maryland Food Bank to get food for our families. If someone gets their gas and electricity cut off, we’ve partnered with a local church and they’ll help with that. Recently, our parents have been expressing a lot of interest in learning English themselves, so we just paired with Baltimore City College to begin an English class two days a week. We also started an afterschool program to do homework help for our kids. We’ve got a grant through the city that supplies us with bags of books and DVDs in other languages like Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, and we have parent workshops teaching them how to read to kids, or if they’re illiterate, teaching them other ways how they can share stories and books with their children.
Q: How do you manage to create and sustain so many programs?
MA: We write a lot of grants. And with these grants we have been able to provide professional development for our teachers specifically around the areas where we are having difficulties with student achievement. I try to piggyback on this work by holding afterschool sessions with teachers, helping them with hot-button topics. This flexibility and responsiveness has been key in trying to deal with our ever-increasing population.
Q: How do you assess your students’ language learning? How do you use the results of formative and/or summative testing?
MA: We are inundated with benchmarks assessments and I try to take a step back from prescribed assessments and remind all of our teachers that these might not be the best measures of language growth. So, we do a lot of formative assessment too, like day-to-day exit tickets, quizzes, and journal entries, which are helpful to look at to see if our students are acquiring the language objectives we’re embedding in content instruction. So we take a dual-pronged approach.
Q: What is your approach in your classroom/school towards ELLs? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching ELLs?
MA: We’re fortunate to have enough resources to implement our chosen models on a larger scale than any other school in the district and are able to have ESOL teachers who work solely with one grade level each. That allows them to be experts in the content standards of their grade, and this has helped us learn how to differentiate for and build a school culture that’s extremely receptive to kids at all levels of English language proficiency.
The challenge is to make school accessible to them so they want to continue with their education. We have our teachers make content accessible through drawings, labeling, organizing, sorting, and only then attach linguistic meaning. We spend a big part of our day trying to integrate language and content instruction. It’s a combination of having good, solid tools that are tried and true, along with having collaborative teams that work together with those tools. Putting those two things together is a key piece to making this all work and be seamless with the students.
Our focus has definitely been on helping our staff use tools, especially WIDA tools. We use the Can Do Descriptors to determine things like what are the expectations of a Level 1 in kindergarten. What has gotten a lot of light bulbs on is using the WIDA model performance indicators, the WIDA standards, and the Can Do Descriptors. We realize these are good teaching practices that help all our kids. Our teachers are ecstatic that with the standards and the model performance indicators, they’re not going to have to do all this extra work. With the tools, our teachers have been able to take a good, solid exhale and say, “Okay, we can get through this.”
Featured Educator Archive