DELAVAN — The Delavan-Darien School District will have a nationally known instructional trainer working in its classrooms full-time come next school year.
Rhonda López, who has taught educators across the country how to effectively use Project GLAD in the classroom, will teach in a third-grade Dual Language Education program class at Turtle Creek Elementary School and support the district as an instructional strategy specialist.
She will also provide ongoing Project GLAD training and follow-up support for Delavan-Darien teachers and educators from all over, making the district a focal point for an educational method that has been shown to boost the academic achievement for all students.
Project GLAD, which stands for Guided Language Acquisition Design, is a set of research-based strategies that effectively teach content while also focusing on teaching appropriate language-acquiring skills. The strategies work for all students (K-12), but are proven to especially work with English Language Learner (ELL) students, or those who speak English as a second language. In Delavan-Darien, about one in five students speak English as a second language, nearly four-times higher than the state average.
“We are thrilled to have Rhonda López joining us. Her expertise in the Project GLAD educational delivery model will be a tremendous benefit to our students and staff,” said Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D. “She has been training our staff for some time now and the model has already paid dividends in our classrooms. I’m excited to see what will happen with Rhonda here full-time.”
López, is coming to Delavan-Darien from Albuquerque, NM, where she has been conducting action research in the integration of Project GLAD with a holistic biliteracy framework in a third grade dual language classroom at Valle Vista Elementary School, an all Project GLAD school. She returned to the classroom after spending several years as a school-wide instructional coach.
She sees her time in the classroom as her most important work, and the perfect opportunity to keep her teaching skills sharp, making her a more effective trainer and instructional coach. In addition to her work as a National Key Trainer for Project GLAD, she also consults with districts in dual-language curriculum development, and has conducted district leadership team-building sessions.
Her passion is providing positive, relevant professional development for teachers. This does not always involve “training” teachers as a consultant, but also coaching teachers to develop the skills they need to independently and effectively face their many instructional challenges. She particularly enjoys mentoring student teachers, her most recent student teacher receiving Student Teacher of the Year for her graduating class. She hopes to continue this type of mentoring in Delavan, contributing to the development of high-quality and well-prepared teachers for the district.
A National Board Certified teacher, López is fluent in English, Spanish and French, and has taught in international schools in Mexico and Costa Rica. She has been a Project GLAD trainer for nearly a decade and is a member of the 2015 Project GLAD Outstanding Training Team of the Year. She has taught most grade levels from pre-school to adult education.
Her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a Bilingual Specialty is from New Mexico State University, as is her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. She was the first student teacher to complete her teaching practicum in Costa Rica from NMSU, where she also taught in both public and private schools. She has published several professional articles that provide support for dual-language teachers all over the world, and regularly presents at dual language conferences.
López also specializes in positive behavior management and cross-cultural understanding. She has many years of experience working with students in poverty and who have been victims of trauma and abuse.
López said she fell in love with Wisconsin and the “Midwestern nice” attitudes of Delavan-Darien staff when she provided training here the past two school years. She’s looking forward to putting her experience and expertise to work for Delavan-Darien and expects to see Project GLAD continue to help improve overall student achievement in the local schools.
López also trained several Delavan-Darien staffers in New Mexico, with a few even staying with her.
“The teachers went back and did great things with the strategies they learned,” López said. “With the DLE teachers having success with Project GLAD, some of the English-only classroom teachers said, ‘these are the things we need to do, too.’
“It generally spreads like that. Teachers see it and everyone wants it. It becomes kind of contagious when teachers see the engagement of the students, the momentum in their learning and the excitement they show. It helps with the whole vision of the school and district. The Project GLAD strategies give teachers the tools they need to create their own responsive program to meet the needs of the students in front of them.”
López said Project GLAD is not a curriculum you can physically unpack from a box and just give to kids. Based on the scientific model and extensive brain research, it’s more about the methods and skills that teachers develop to adapt to the needs of kids.
“The strategies are aimed to be responsive to what the teachers are observing and what is needed by the students,” López said. “It’s also a way of allowing teachers to do what we do well, and that’s design effective curriculum… GLAD units are standards-based and are highly rigorous and demanding, but they allow for high-achievement for kids.”
López cited several examples of schools in New Mexico where the Project GLAD strategies were used and the schools showed impressive achievement growth. Her last school went from a “D” rating by the state to an “A” rating within a year, based on standardized test scores and other key growth factors.
Ron Sandoval, Delavan-Darien’s director of language acquisition, said the students at Turtle Creek Elementary have showed noticeable improvement in engagement, behavior and excitement toward learning. Project GLAD was introduced in Dual Language classrooms two years ago and to the entire staff this year.
“GLAD works by focusing on the whole class, then down to (student) groups, and then to individuals, and then it repeats,” Sandoval said. “It switches often with new activities, so there is no time for kids to get bored. They’re into their learning. It is more hands-on and with more experimentation and higher-level thinking.”
Sandoval said the district plans to roll out Project GLAD to Darien and Wileman elementary schools next school year and then to the middle school and high school staffs in 2017-18.
“Having López here will help us improve, a lot,” Sandoval said. “She has great charisma and is a really good coach. She doesn’t just come in and say you’re doing good or bad. She shows you what you’re doing well and explains how you can still do so much better. She has the skill to make you feel that, as a teacher, you can do anything for the kids.”
López will have opportunities to continue coaching Delavan-Darien staff, as well as those from other schools. She and Sandoval are hoping to make Delavan-Darien a “Midwestern hub” of Project GLAD training.
The district can charge other schools that send staff for coaching and observations done by López and a partner trainer, who is at least at a Tier III level. Some of Delavan-Darien’s own bilingual staffers are already trained at Tier I and are hopeful to reach at least Tier III.
López has also said she plans to open up her classroom for parents and other teachers to come in and observe the strategies anytime.
“I want people to see how these strategies work in real time,” López said. “It’s a very positive program, you have to see to really understand.”