Meet Glenda Harrell
At this year's Graduate Student Research Symposium, the first-place award in the Education category went to Glenda Harrell. Her poster presentation, "Multiple Benefits of Two-Way Dual Language Immersion," exhibited her research into the reasons and solutions for the poor academic performance and high drop-out rates for students who are learning English as a second language.
For 20 years, Harrell's career has developed in response to the needs of English language learners [ELLs] beginning with teaching Migrant Summer School in Johnston County, North Carolina. She had already earned her undergraduate degree and teaching certification from Appalachian State in Anthropology and Spanish. And she continued her education with a Master's degree in Supervision Curriculum and Instruction from NC State, in order to make an impact through an administrative role in the school district. The small population of ELL migrant farm worker families shifted to a growing ELL student population as parents secured work in construction, food service, and other endeavors, thus creating the need for organized English as a Second Language [ESL] program. As the Migrant Education and Summer Academy Coordinator, Harrell was well prepared to develop the ESL Program for Johnston County, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. James Causby.
After her daughter Caroline successfully completed a year at UNC-Wilmington, she decided it was time to expand the mission. Now a doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction at NC State, Harrell's research evolved from her professional experience. She saw a need to tap into the potential of speakers of other languages in the schools, as well as communities to support students' mastery of other languages. "Despite efforts to prepare students with globally competitive skills, language learning opportunities are very limited." Harrell believes that the Two-Way Dual Language Immersion programs are the best hope for North Carolina schools to close the achievement gap for English Language learners as well as to provide an opportunity for our children to acquire communicative competence in at least one other language.
The hurdle for implementing these programs is that the ". . . idea of English speaking Kindergarteners being taught in another language 90% of the day is counterintuitive to our monolingual parents and teachers." However, Harrell's research has shown that in a sample over six NC school districts, those students in Dual Langue programs significantly outscored students without this program in each grade on the 2008 End-of-Grad Reading test. Furthermore, these data are consistent with results from other national longitudinal studies. Previously, there was no longitudinal research for North Carolina schools. Harrell's research is unique in that it represents the first phase of a five-year study to fill this gap.
Harrell's advice to her fellow grad students is simple. "Don't be afraid to ask questions! There is always a classmate or professor willing to lend a hand and a kind word."
Because Harrell holds a full-time job, as well as attending classes, she has little time for other personal interests and hobbies. So, when she does have a moment, she and her husband can usually be found at NC State basketball and football games! Her husband is a "HUGE pack fan."
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