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Sarah Vander Laan joins team add.a.lingua

As add.a.lingua continues to grow in partnerships across the nation, our small but mighty team grows too. The addition of longtime teacher colleague, add.a.lingua trainer, and friend, Sarah Vander Laan brings additional depth to our curricular development and instructional support services.

Sarah’s teaching career in Spanish immersion classrooms spans several grade levels, schools, and states, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to our team. We know our partners schools will appreciate Sarah’s attention to detail, learner’s spirit, and depth of experience. Please join us in welcoming Sarah, and read on as she shares a bit about her passion for our shared work.

What brings you to add.a.lingua? Tell us about your time spent learning languages and teaching. What pivotal experiences or moments brought you to team add.a.lingua?

The short answer: I love Spanish, I love people, and I love teaching! With diverse classroom experience under my belt, I am excited to support teachers with high quality immersion-specific resources and professional learning. We are all lifelong learners in this career, and I look forward to coming alongside my fellow educators as we elevate our instructional craft for the good of our students.

My love for the Spanish language started around the dinner table. While we were eating, my parents let my siblings and me use an easel and markers to teach each other what we were learning in our Spanish FLES program at school. I was hooked! By the time middle and high school came around, I was ALL IN for the challenge of the accelerated Spanish track. I went above and beyond to make my learning my own because I loved the language.

Starting in college, my love of the language grew to be rooted in personal relationships. I made meaningful relationships with classmates in Mexico, elementary students in Guatemala, Spanish-speaking attendees at church, adults in an ESL class, and parents and teachers at the schools where I have taught. These relationships give a deeper purpose to learning Spanish that goes beyond the head knowledge of the language itself.

My love for Spanish and for people led me to become a Spanish immersion teacher. I could go on and on about how much I have grown as a person and a professional from my diverse experiences teaching! I’ve taught in both private and public schools; students who are racially and linguistically diverse (and those who are not); every grade from PreK-5th (except 3rd!); and collaborated with teachers from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities, languages, races, and levels of experience.

These diverse teaching experiences have led me to value high quality curriculum, collaborative and reflective learning communities, and ongoing professional development. I believe we must be committed to this in order to effectively teach ALL students. I’m excited to join team add.a.lingua in their work to support immersion teachers!

You’re a teacher at heart. What will you miss most about the classroom as you embark on this new journey?

The kids! I love working with students. Every day is a new opportunity to connect with the amazing children in my classroom. They each have great potential, abilities, and strengths, and of course their own areas of needed growth, too. I get a lot of energy out of the productive struggle of teaching. I’ve learned to gather and analyze data individually and on a collaborative team. Reflective, collaborative conversations about what worked for students (and what didn’t) are so important. And of course, then comes the strategic thinking and planning for what instruction comes next. I love this reflective cycle because it puts into action my belief that ALL students can learn.

What do you most look forward to in your role as curriculum developer and instructional support specialist?

I especially look forward to the instructional support side of my role. I am a teacher at heart, so I am excited to come alongside my fellow teachers as they wear both the language and content instruction hats. I love that add.a.lingua doesn’t just hand teachers materials and say “¡Buena suerte!” We’re here with you, supporting you on your professional learning journey. I’m excited to be part of a team that’s all about equipping teachers and empowering students!

Your story highlights that you know a great deal about add.a.lingua from the teacher’s lens. What about our organization seemed enticing?

I’ve taught 4th grade Spanish Immersion in an add.a.lingua partner school and K-2nd Spanish immersion in a non-partner school. I loved my colleagues and students at the non-partner school, and I experienced significant professional growth there in areas like data analysis, collaborative planning, and culturally relevant teaching practices. However, I sorely missed having the immersion-specific resources and professional development that add.a.lingua provides. Immersion programs need research-based, immersion-specific curricular resources and professional learning and support. I’m very happy to be part of an organization that is dedicated to that work.

What piece of advice would you offer to new pd1 teachers as they join their add.a.lingua partner programs in the fall?

Rest and refresh! Trust that your school and add.a.lingua will work together to make sure you have the professional learning and resources you need to have a successful first year at your partner school.

When training time comes around, come with a mind open to new ways of thinking. Engage with fellow teachers, ask questions, and always remember: we are reflective, ever-learning teachers because we want the absolute best for our students!

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