HOLYOKE Teachers Luis D. Martinez and David Allard were knee-deep in paperwork in Room 221N of the Dr. William R. Peck Middle School on their first day of school on Aug. 28 as others starting readying their classrooms for the students' arrival on Sept. 4.
The pilot project for the school year they were working on is titled "Mathematics for Second Language Learners" (MSL), which will provide an academically rigorous math course for Holyoke English Language Learners (ELL) who are at the beginning and early intermediate levels of English acquisition. The goal of the course is to help sixth through eighth grade students learn English to access the mathematics taught in the general education classroom.
The Holyoke ELL Program began an early mathematics class for beginners as a pilot at Lynch Middle School in 2006-07 in grades 6-8, and results indicated the need for a specific standards-based curriculum adapted specifically for ELL. This year, the development and implementation of the course will be piloted at the Lynch Middle School and the Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School.
As both Martinez and Allard sifted through countless manuals and textbooks on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables with algebra added to the mix both noted they are ready for the arrival of students on Sept. 4.
Dr. Eduardo B. Carballo, Holyoke's Superintendent of Schools, is also ready for the start of the school year, and knows well the challenges that many children face who come to the Holyoke schools with varying levels of English proficiency, educational experiences, and levels of literacy in their native language.
Carballo came to the United States as a refugee in 1962 as part of 14,000 children who left Cuba without their families under Operation Peter Pan. He knows firsthand the challenges and struggles of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.
He noted in an interview with Reminder Publications that he has dedicated his professional life to helping teachers and staff members meet the challenges of educating all children. Carballo has served as a teacher for 36 years, as well as a guidance counselor, a project director at the Massachusetts Department of Education, a university professor and administrator in four school districts.
Carballo stressed he is firmly committed to the pursuit of equity in a diverse society through teaching, mentoring and community service. He also noted that parents can rest assured he and the teachers in the school system are here to educate all children and help their parents in any way they can.
Luis Martinez, who starts his fifth year teaching at the Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School, echoes those sentiments.
"What I enjoy most about being a teacher is the ability to have an effect, to mold a mind, to be someone outside the family who students can depend on," he said. "My job is not to teach, but to facilitate an experience. When my students leave at the end of the year, I want them to say that they were challenged every day, that they learned, they fought hard, and that they are ready for the next level."
Martinez emphasized that since he began his career in the city the district itself has changed a lot.
"With the partnership with America's Choice, our schools have become more uniformed," he said. "Teachers across the district are able to teach the same curriculum maps, assess the students with the same questions, but most important, compare results, and get to see what strategies work and don't work."
America's Choice is a research-based company that provides a coherent instructional system based on high expectations for all students. America's Choice was chosen by the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Holyoke Public Schools to be its turn-around partner in order to address the needs of an underperforming district.
Martinez added that Holyoke teachers and America's Choice are working well at providing education and improving the needs and the scores of students which will ultimately allow them to compete in a global society.
On the subject of a global society, Carballo's vision of the district is that every student will graduate from high school ready for college success without remediation and will be productive and successful citizens. Carballo also likes to be a presence in all 13 of the schools he oversees and makes it a point to stop in at each school most mornings throughout the school year.
This fall, the Holyoke public schools have 750 teachers who are also as eager as Martinez to begin inspiring students.
"My life lesson for the past four years has been the same," said Martinez. "In life you only get one or two strikes, use them well, because it is what you do with them that will determine what legacy you will leave behind."