Watson Institute Hosts N.J. Cultural Competency & English Language Learners Institute

August 9, 2012

Ana I. Berdecia, senior fellow and director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy's Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children.

Ana I. Berdecia, senior fellow and director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy's Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children.

The John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy of Thomas Edison State College will host the 6th New Jersey Cultural Competency and English Language Learners Summer Institute this month, bringing nearly 30 early childhood educators back to school to increase their cultural and linguistic awareness.

“Experts have found that children who perceive their learning environment as supporting their cultural identities are much more engaged learners,” said Ana I. Berdecia, senior fellow and director of the institute’s Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children, who is overseeing the event.

Since it began in 2007, the New Jersey Cultural Competency and English Language Learners Summer Institute has trained and mentored 110 early childhood educators working in 45 classrooms throughout New Jersey, better enabling them to create environments that affirm and celebrate the cultural heritage of their students.

For this year’s event, which takes place at Thomas Edison State College on Aug. 15 – 17, 29 early childhood educators representing nine centers from Bloomfield, East Windsor, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Perth Amboy, Trenton and Union, N.J., will participate in the 3-day intensive Summer Institute.

According the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the number of school-age children (ages 5–17) who spoke a language other than English at home rose from 4.7 million to 11.2 million between the years of 1980 and 2009.

Berdecia said that related studies show that culturally responsive early childhood educators have the power to nurture children’s self-concepts and provide children from homes representing an array of cultures with the confidence to explore their world. In a recent poll, New Jersey students identified 187 different languages as their home language.

Berdecia’s enthusiasm for the program stems from her own experience. As a child from a non-English speaking household, she was thrust into an unfamiliar academic culture, which she found overwhelming.

“I often felt anxious and marginalized in my grade school classes, which hindered my ability to learn,” she said. “The Summer Institute was created to address a growing need in New Jersey for early childhood educators to learn more about diverse learners and how to infuse culture and language into the classroom as positive anchors for learning.”

The workshops incorporate content, theory, practice and simulations coupled with intensive training by experts in second language acquisition and cultural competency. Ongoing training includes additional teacher mentoring, quarterly teleconferences and peer interaction.

“We are excited about the new skills these teachers will take back to their classrooms,” said Berdecia.

The New Jersey Cultural Competency and English Language Learners Summer Institute and Mentoring Program is made possible by funding from Family Strength Associates, Inc., the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services – Division of Family Development, TD Bank Charitable Foundation, Bank of America, The Schumann Fund for New Jersey and The John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy of Thomas Edison State College.