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Say Hello to Stephanie Irizarry, add.a.lingua’s Newest Team Member

Stephanie Irizarry Have you ever encountered someone in the course of your work with a mind, a heart, and a passion that makes you step back and say, “Wow, it would be great to work with her (or him) someday”? Maybe you’re on parallel tracks, hoping those tracks will meet….someday.

For add.a.lingua, one of those someones is Stephanie Irizarry. And fortunately for us and our partner schools, that someday is today. That’s right, Stephanie has jumped tracks and we’re thrilled to welcome her to add.a.lingua as our newest team member.

Stephanie brings a wealth of experience as a language learner, advocate, and dual language immersion instructional coach to the table. We couldn’t be more pleased to get to work alongside Stephanie and to share her talents with our partner schools.

To help you get to know Stephanie a bit more, we decided to ask her a few questions about what brought her here, what keeps her motivated, and how her work will serve our partner schools. We hope you enjoy the conversation, and please feel free to leave a welcome note for Stephanie or post a question in the comments section.

So, how did you get here? Tell us about your journey into language learning and teaching. Were there any moments that stand out as turning points that led you to this path?

From as early as I can remember, I’ve wanted to teach. Learning was inspiring to me, especially in the moments in which it didn’t come easily, and I knew that if I tried hard enough, I might be able to help kids explore what gets them excited about their own learning journeys. My parents worked hard to foster a love for learning in me, and I grew to love school so much that I want to spend my whole life there!

My language learning focus began as a student in Mr. Garcia’s fourth grade classroom. He was a bilingual teacher who could relate linguistically and culturally to native Spanish speakers in my class. I was always amazed by how beautiful their language sounded, and I saw how Mr. Garcia could connect with every single student in the room in some way, academically, culturally, and linguistically. I saw how my peers learned English over time, but there was no avenue, really, for me to really learn Spanish that early in my educational career. As I grew, I became acutely aware of Spanish and leaned into learning it whenever possible. Middle school and high school language courses, and a trip to Spain to test my skills led me to a Spanish major at the university level.  As my studies became more robust, and as I traveled more, I grew even more passionate about equity in our school systems for all children, from all backgrounds, still thinking about the peers in my fourth grade class.

My greatest joys as a teacher have been teaching fourth grade entirely in Spanish in Mexico at a government public school, in world language and immersion classrooms in the U.S., and in summer migrant programs. Each of these settings has informed my philosophy on living life with a learner’s heart and that the diversity of our learners is, in every way, an asset. That view has led me to a B.A. in Spanish and Elementary Education, an M.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and through my current learning journey through the M.Ed. program in Interdisciplinary Studies with emphasis on Dual Language Immersion Education through the University of Minnesota.

Ultimately, language learning, has the power to break down barriers, heal misunderstandings, and build new bridges. It’s now the massive mission of my heart to support students and our colleagues who teach them in such a way that honors their native/heritage language(s) while simultaneously adding the joy of an immersion language.

As you think about this transition, what do you anticipate missing the most about being in the classroom?

Three years ago, my role as a third grade Spanish Immersion teacher shifted to one of a Dual Language Immersion Instructional Coach in service alongside educators in the FHPS Spanish and Mandarin Immersion programs. Those who know me well know how terribly I miss working directly with students, greeting them each day, sharing in the joys of reading and exploring content with them, and partnering directly with their families. While leaving the classroom has been the most difficult move in my career, and one I never would have anticipated, I still feel connected to the classroom through the teachers with whom I’ve been so blessed to work. While I’m not directly in the classroom at this time, I find the best way I can serve students is by caring about and supporting their teachers and building leaders with regard to what their personal goals might be. Teachers and administrators work incredibly hard to bring the best to their students each day. I enjoy collaborating with them as their wonderings and celebrations drive the conversations!

Tell us a little about your new role at add.a.lingua and how it impacts the work of our partner programs in an ongoing way.

As a full-time employee at add.a.lingua, I’m eager to grow to know each school and staff with whom the organization partners. It’s exciting for me as an avid learner in the fields of DLI and TESOL to blend those passions for second language acquisition and development of cultural knowledge with all that we all know as educators about sound, research-based instructional practice. It’s my sincere hope to serve partner programs with a listening ear, a learner’s spirit and the heart of a coach dedicated to supporting programs on their own, unique growth trajectories.

It’s great to see so many programs upholding the pillars of dual language immersion programming while blending them with their school/district’s culture in order to yield student results that align with research in the field. Professional learning is best when it’s job-embedded, ongoing and specific to the learner, so I’m eager to develop relationships and collaborate!

What drew you to work with add.a.lingua, and what are you most looking forward to as settle into your new role?

Just like the schools with which they partner, add.a.lingua is 100% committed to students and their potential. This organization is about supporting teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators to develop the best programs they can, grounded in sound research on immersion education and philosophy to serve children. The resources, training, and professional learning they provide are all pieces to the puzzle that I wish I could have had at the start of my immersion education experience.  The whole notion of collaborating with and learning from immersion colleagues from a variety of schools, contexts, and experiences in support of student learning is really appealing to me.

What encouragement would you give to dli teachers, administrators, and point people as they look ahead to 2015-2016 school year?

I always say that dual language immersion program implementation and articulation is a bumpy road, but that it’s most definitely the road we want to be on! As teachers, administrators, and point people take a bit of time (hopefully!) for themselves in these summer months to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate, I hope that each takes some time to CELEBRATE all that was accomplished in their classrooms, buildings, and programs this year!

Looking ahead to the 2015-2016 year, it’s always great to reflect:

–What from the 2014-2015 academic year might you want to keep the same?

–What might be something that, as you reflect, you would like to change, shift, or do differently next year?

–What might be some tangible first steps that could get you to your desired state?

When you visit the add.a.lingua office, you’ll be greeted by a big map stuck full of colored pins representing the travels of our team–will you be adding any pins?

Yes! I love that map! It has inspired me to think further about my future travels! My pins will be located nationally on some of my favorite cities like Minneapolis/St. Paul, Miami, Houston, Snowbird (UT), Chicago, St. Louis, Tucson, Indianapolis, and Washington D.C.  Internationally, I’ll have pins on Nogales (Mexico), Windsor (Canada), Madrid, Malaga, Granada, Seville (Spain), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Oslo, Asker, Risor (Norway), Merida, Sisal (Mexico), and San Juan/San German (Puerto Rico).


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