Advocating for English Language Learners

Upper Iowa University alumna Montana Van Sickle chose to pursue an ELL teaching position because of the daily challenges the students face in and out of the classroom

Soon after the young students file into the classroom, the children’s broad smiles and an even larger desire to learn are quickly observed. The students’ cheerfulness and enthusiasm is mirrored by their teacher and Upper Iowa University alumna, Montana Van Sickle ’15.

An English Language Learners (ELL) teacher for Des Moines Public Schools, Van Sickle teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) to students in kindergarten and grades one and three at South Union Elementary, and grades three thrMontana B-cropped_Bridgeough five at Howe Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education, Van Sickle also earned her K-8 reading, K-8 language arts and K-12 ESL endorsements while attending UIU.

Entering just her second year of teaching, the Hawkeye, Iowa, native has already provided English instruction to elementary students with ties to countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Nepal, Somalia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and Sudan.

“I chose to pursue an ELL teaching position because of the daily challenges these students face in and out of the classroom,” she explained. “I thought it would be an area where I could make a difference and possibly change the lives of my students forever. I feel becoming bilingual is one of the first steps in preparing each of them for a successful future.”

An advocate for the ELL population, Van Sickle explained her duties and goals are to help students acquire the English language and provide each of them the appropriate background knowledge and vocabulary required to succeed in their academic and social lives. She noted the biggest challenge during her first year of teaching was meeting the diverse needs of all the students she worked with daily.

“These children come from various backgrounds and have a wide range of emotional, social and academic needs,” explained the former UIU Education Club president. “I’ve certainly become attached to ‘my kids’ and they have impacted my life, both professionally and personally.

“It is has been extremely fulfilling to see the progress my students have made in their conversational and academic language skills; watching them learn new vocabulary and use it in an appropriate context,” she added. “I am equally happy to have built such a strong relationship with my colleagues at Howe and South Union elementary schools. They too, have deeply impacted my life.”

Van Sickle credits her alma mater with providing her the skills and hands-on experiences needed to prepare her for a leadership position in the classroom. She especially praised the Andres School of Education faculty and staff for their continuing advice, guidance and support.

“Without each of them, I wouldn’t have been prepared to face the challenges people in my field of education go through every day,” said Van Sickle, who completed her student teaching requirements at Wings Park and Parkside elementary schools in Oelwein, Iowa. “The ELL population in Iowa and across the United States will only continue to grow. Teaching English Language Learners has already proven to be rewarding to me. It’s an area in education where the teacher can make a change in so many lives, both in and out of the classroom.”

In addition to continuing her role as an ELL teacher, she is looking forward to joining the Howe Elementary School staff in 2016-2017 as one of six Des Moines public schools chosen in the rollout of Schools for Rigor. An additional 27 Des Moines Public Schools will begin the transformation in 2017-2018, with the remaining schools to follow the ensuing school year. Howe Elementary and the other five initial schools will become demonstration sites where teachers and administrators from other schools will be able to witness, first hand, what truly rigorous teaching and learning looks like.

“It’s very exciting to have an opportunity to participate in a program where administrators, teachers and students will experience the academically demanding teaching and learning skills required by the Iowa Core,” closed Van Sickle. “Similar to the pride I take in being an Upper Iowa graduate, I am so delighted to be a part of Des Moines Public Schools as it continues to become a model in urban education.”


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