Featured Educators: Joe Brereton and Madison Leech

May 7, 2024

The 2024 WIDA Annual Conference is mere months away, and we’re getting excited about all the valuable sessions we’ll be offering this year. Let’s take a sneak peek at one of those sessions: “Community Engagement and Advocacy for Multilingual Students and Families.” Joe Brereton and Madison Leech are administrators at the elementary school level. They both have extensive experience in working with multilingual learners and their families to create a network of support in their community.

The WIDA Annual Conference is a multi-day event by teachers, for teachers. Want to know more about #WIDA2024 in October? Read all about it and find out how to register on the conference website.

Note: The following content has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about your background/experience in multilingual learner education.

Madison Leech: Before becoming an administrator about two years ago, I taught multilingual learners (MLs) in North Carolina and Pennsylvania for a little over ten years. While I’ve taught adult and secondary students, most of my time has been spent at the elementary level. Since beginning in Central Bucks School District, my focus has been continuing to build an English language development (ELD) program that supports families, teachers and students, and I’ve focused on district-wide professional development to support program growth and a mindset shift that multilingualism is an asset.

About five years ago, I began working on special projects through Advancing ALTELLA. We focus on supporting educators of MLs with the most significant cognitive disabilities. In collaborating with WIDA and Advancing ALTELLA, I’ve taken part in many conferences, presentations and workshops that explore ways to create a collaborative framework for educational teams. Our upcoming session at the WIDA Annual Conference is the culmination of my work within the district and my experiences as a WIDA expert.

Joe Brereton: I have been an elementary principal for 23 years. During that time, I have been a mentor to many aspiring principals in the district and through the University of Pennsylvania’s School Leadership Program. I've conducted research and provided leadership training to mentor teachers and school principals in Siem Reap, Cambodia and was named PA’s 2016 National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. I have my doctorate in comparative and international education. I believe that school leaders can best support MLs through a systems-wide leadership model anchored in culturally responsive and social justice leadership.

In your current role, what do language services look like in your school or district?

Madison: Currently, our elementary program is in the process of de-regionalizing our ELD programming. As the number of MLs continues to grow, other elementary schools have been reaching out to us for guidance and support. Barclay Elementary School has a variety of instructional models in place depending on our student needs. For the past several years, we’ve focused on co-teaching and supporting our learners through a collaborative team approach.

Each ELD teacher is part of a grade-level educational team including classroom teachers, a special education teacher, a reading specialist, educational assistants and a response to intervention teacher. These teams work together to plan and monitor what is best for their students.

You will be co-presenting a session at #WIDA2024 called “Community Engagement and Advocacy for Multilingual Students and Families.” What can attendees expect to learn?

Joe: As administrators, we strive for meaningful ways to engage families and highlight the strengths they bring to our community. While we have instructional frameworks and collaborative educational teams, we also provide organizational and community leadership to highlight assets our ML families bring to school. Anchored in the tradition of culturally responsive action research, we've spent 10 years partnering with our community to build a framework and network of support.

Attendees can expect to learn and engage in a process of assessing and analyzing community needs. They’ll learn how to develop advocacy strategies to support ML families and to apply a systems-wide leadership model to develop sustainable support in their districts.

Can you tell us about the importance of community engagement? What inspired you to focus on this in your work and for your conference session?

Madison: The educational system can be very overwhelming to navigate, especially after what could be a long, and often traumatic journey for our newcomer families. There are so many barriers our students face, and we have committed our efforts to removing these barriers so that all children can access high-quality and equitable teaching and learning.

Joe: We want our school to be a space for all to feel welcomed and supported. We’ve built a network with families, educators, local organizations and community leaders to develop an asset-based approach to partnering with our ML families.

Madison: Our work with the community has manifested itself in many ways including a co-created model aimed at families building roots in our community. This means navigating the enrollment process and making it more accessible, addressing food and housing insecurity, considering health and dental resources and resources for multilingual therapy.

Joe: We want families to view us as partners. As we’ve worked to remove barriers, we better understand our role as culturally responsive school leaders and our responsibility to consistently reflect upon our own biases, and personal and professional experiences and worldviews as we advocate for justice.

Could you share an example of effective community engagement that has positively affected students and their families?

Joe: During the COVID-19 pandemic, our immediate concern was food insecurity. What started as a small farmers’ market serving about 40 families evolved into biweekly community-wide food distribution that serves hundreds of families and children. This work includes dozens of local organizations, non-profits and community and church leaders.

Anything else you’d like to share about you or your session?

Joe: We know that our work is not unique—many districts are doing similar things. If they aren’t yet, we hope to help them conceptualize a context-specific model of community engagement that centers the voices and experiences of historically marginalized groups.

Madison: This is the most meaningful and rewarding work we’ve done, and we hope to energize participants’ passion and commitment to partnering with, and serving, ML families.


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