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Colchester ELL Educator Named Vermont Teacher of the Year

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Teacher of the year Susan Rosato with students Steldie Mabiala (left) and Peas Liu - COURTESY OF MEGAN MCLOUGHLIN
  • Courtesy of Megan McLoughlin
  • Teacher of the year Susan Rosato with students Steldie Mabiala (left) and Peas Liu

Since 1964, the Vermont Agency of Education has named a teacher of the year. In October, Susan Rosato, a teacher of English learners in the Colchester School District, was awarded the honor for 2021.

In her role as an English learner teacher for grades 9-12 at Colchester High School, Rosato works with dozens of students, many of whom are New Americans, to support their language skills and help them navigate the educational system.

In October, Kids VT spoke with Rosato about her work and what she hopes to accomplish in her role.

Kids VT: You've been an English language teacher in Colchester for 17 years. How has the program changed over time?

Susan Rosato: When I first started working at Colchester, I was just at two days a week and we had over 40 [ELL] students. And there was a teacher who worked [part time with ELL students] at the high school. Over time, I've gone to the school board and presented the case for needing more ELL services. It's really not OK to have a 40 percent ELL teacher for 40 students. It was woefully underserviced when I joined those many years ago.

KVT: Can you tell me a little about the English Language Learner population at Colchester High School?

SR: We have kids from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Vietnam, China, and Iraq. There are newcomer students [who don’t speak any English] all the way up to [students] working on academic language. There’s state testing that the kids take and they have to get a certain level of language proficiency before they’re exited from English language services.

KVT: What are some of the ways you build relationships with your students?

SR: I go to their sporting events. I help them make sure that they have rides to and from the different sporting events. Joining a team is always a really good way to feel a part of the school. In my classroom, we work on collaborative book projects. Over the last three years, we've worked as a class to create a book that we publish at the end of the unit, which is a lot of fun. It involves artwork and writing and rewriting their different pieces, and then sharing those with one of our sixth-grade classrooms at Colchester Middle School.

KVT: How does your job look different this year because of coronavirus?

SR: Having to be at school with the six feet of separation and wearing masks is a challenge, but I think everyone has really gotten used to it at this point. When the kids are in school, I focus on doing more hands-on, fun activities. We have outdoor spaces that we can access. On remote Wednesdays, we have shorter lessons and the kids from different groups get to all be together… We do lots of conversation, listening activities, fun grammar Kahoot games. When they’re on their own remote, I have created video lessons for them to watch and assignments for them to do through Google classroom.

KVT: What are you working on with your students right now?

SR: We are in the middle of a group project that connects all of my students. My instructional aide, Megan McLoughlin, is taking photos of each student, and we are recording sound portraits. Each student will be recorded talking about what's important to them and what they believe. The photos and recordings will be produced into a short film and shared with other classes. Our communications director, Meghan Baule, will help us produce the film. The project is an example of how I work to showcase student voice and choice in my teaching.

How do you plan to use your Teacher of the Year platform?

SR: When I spoke with the Board of Education, I let them know that my platform would be equity in education. Mainly, my hope is that we're able to [look] at, "What are the materials that we're offering our students?" so there's not bias in our curriculum. And for me, as an ELL teacher, making sure my colleagues are able to put together lessons and assessments that are at the students' second-language acquisition level so that they're comprehending their content area work. That's really been the focus for me for most of my career.

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