Elana Lawrick at Reading High School

Joining Knowledge, Love and ESL

By Elizabeth Shimer-Bowers

Much like the rest of the country, the City of Reading is becoming more culturally diverse. And with increased diversity comes an increasing need to help people learn English. 

“Over 18 percent of students in the Reading School District are English language learners; this means their English proficiency ranges from zero to emerging,” says Dr. Elena Lawrick, associate professor of education and director of the Office for Multilingual Student Success at Alvernia. “These students come from 28 different countries, which creates an unprecedented challenge for the district.” 

To meet the increasing demand, Reading needs more teachers certified to teach English as a second language (ESL). 

Enter the partnership with neighboring Alvernia University. To help teachers do their jobs most efficiently, Lawrick is working with the Reading School District to certify teachers in ESL. 

“The goal is to help the district equip teachers with the knowledge and tools necessary to provide equitable education to English learning students,” explains Lawrick. “This partnership is Alvernia’s contribution to what is currently one of the greatest challenges in our community — to educate a diverse population. Reading School District is at the epicenter of this challenge.”  

The partnership works like this: Teachers in the district enroll in the K-12 ESL program to get their ESL Specialist Certifications. The program consists of five courses offered on Alvernia’s campus at convenient times for teachers.

“The courses provide a well-rounded and practical knowledge base every teacher needs to teach English learning students,” Lawrick says.  Those who want to advance their education further can take additional courses that lead to a master’s degree in education. 

So far, the program has been a success. Two cohorts of teachers have earned certifications, and the third is already underway. Several teachers who have completed the program are moving forward with master’s degrees. “After the third cohort, more than 40 teachers in the Reading School District will be certified to help ESL students learn English and subject content, as well as to engage parents of these students in a culturally sensitive and responsive way,” says Lawrick. 

Dr. Lawrick joined Alvernia University in 2016. She brings more than 20 years of experience teaching ESL to various student populations and training ESL teachers. “Being an ESL professional, I deeply share Alvernia’s ideal of ‘knowledge joined with love.’ It resonates with my core values and my teaching philosophy,” she explains. 

Moving forward, Lawrick says she hopes other school districts will partner with Alvernia on ESL education. “I want Alvernia to become a model and leader in educating diverse students,” she says.