Nicholson Foundation Supports Expansion of Cultural Competency Program

May 28, 2014

(from left) Barbara George Johnson, executive director, John S. Watson Institute of Public Policy; Ana I. Berdecia, director, John S. Watson Institute’s Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children; Kay Hendon, director, Early Childhood Services, The Nicholson Foundation and Charles Venti, executive director, The Nicholson Foundation.

(from left) Barbara George Johnson, executive director, John S. Watson Institute of Public Policy; Ana I. Berdecia, director, John S. Watson Institute’s Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children; Kay Hendon, director, Early Childhood Services, The Nicholson Foundation and Charles Venti, executive director, The Nicholson Foundation.

The Nicholson Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to the Thomas Edison State College Foundation that will be used to support expansion of the New Jersey Cultural Competency and English Language Learners (ELL) Summer Institute and Mentoring Program into more New Jersey communities.

The program, which is under the direction of The John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy’s Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children, helps early childhood educators from across New Jersey increase their cultural and linguistic awareness. 

Since it began in 2007, the program has trained and mentored 140 early childhood educators, better enabling them to create environments that affirm and celebrate the cultural heritage of their students.

The Nicholson Foundation grant will be used to expand the program into Paterson and Newark, N.J.
"We're very pleased to support the English Language Learners Summer Institute, as part of our work to advance evidence-based early childhood practices that enhance family wellbeing and address the academic achievement gap," said Charles Venti, executive director of The Nicholson Foundation.

The program, which is composed of a three-day intensive training institute, incorporates content, theory, practice and simulations coupled with training by experts in second language acquisition and cultural competency. Ongoing training includes additional teacher mentoring, quarterly teleconferences and peer interaction.

The grant will enable the Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children to recruit up to 32 early childhood educators from Paterson and Newark who work with diverse children and families to help teachers become more culturally responsive.

“It is very rewarding to see our work acknowledged and the ELL program model duplicated specifically for the cities of Paterson and Newark,” said Ana I. Berdecia, senior fellow and director of the Watson Institute’s Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children who oversees the program. “These cities contain the largest concentrations of diverse families who need teachers that infuse culture and language into every part of the childhood learning experience. This program gives teachers the tools to help support cultural identity and the academic success of young English language learners.”

The ELL Summer Institute helps teachers examine their own biases and impart teaching strategies to improve learning environments for English language learners through discussion, simulations and integration of culture and language into the curriculum. The nine-month mentorship that follows provides coaches who help the teachers make positive connections between the children’s home life and the school’s environment.

The grant marks the first time the New Jersey Cultural Competency and English Language Learning Institute will be offered in North Jersey.