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TESOL Visit Congress for TESOL Advocacy Day 2008 (July 2008)

On June 18, 2008, 13 TESOL members representing 12 U.S.-based affiliates met in Washington, D.C., for TESOL Advocacy Day 2008. The third such event held by TESOL, the day featured issue briefings and workshops, capped by members visiting congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The goal of Advocacy Day was not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for affiliate representatives focused on elements of advocacy. By the end of the day, TESOL members had visited more than 40 representatives and senators.

The No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, is scheduled to go through a legislative renewal, or reauthorization, during the 110th Congress. Because of the dramatic impact NCLB has had on the education of English language learners in the United States and because of the many critical issues stemming from its implementation, TESOL Advocacy Day 2008 was focused exclusively on this law.

To maximize the impact of TESOL Advocacy Day, key members of Congress serving on the education committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings. In turn, affiliates representing the constituencies of those members of Congress were selected and invited to send a representative to Advocacy Day.

With guidance from TESOL, participants set up their own individual meetings with these key members of Congress. Participants received talking points and background information on the topics they would be addressing so that they could begin to familiarize themselves with the key issues in advance. To help make their congressional meetings more effective, participants were encouraged to find examples from their own states and districts to illustrate the talking points.

Cornelia Randolph (l) of New York State TESOL meets with Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) (r) and presents him with the TESOL Advocacy Leadership Recognition from the 2008 TESOL convention. 

Jackie Moase0Burke (l) of Michigan TESOL meets with Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI).

TESOL Advocacy Day commenced with a welcome from TESOL President Shelley Wong. The participants were also joined by President Elect Mark Algren and Past President Sandy Briggs. The morning workshop was led by John Segota, Advocacy and Professional Relations Manager, and was comprised of three briefings. The first briefing featured congressional staff from both the House and the Senate discussing the “view from the Hill” on NCLB reauthorization, and the key issues under debate. The second briefing featured the education staffer from Sen. Barrack Obama’s office discussing a bill on middle school reform he has proposed, Success in the Middle Act. The final briefing featured the acting director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) providing an update from that office.

“Hearing from the advisors for Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Enzi, and Rep. Hinojosa, as well as the advisor for Sen. Obama helped me a great deal,” said Ruth Hoenick, who represented Wisconsin TESOL. “I have a much clearer idea on their role in Washington, DC, mine as a member of TESOL, and how all of us can work together.”

Following these briefings, an interactive workshop was held on how to have an effective meeting with one’s congressional representative. This workshop was led by Ellen Fern and Krista Heckler of Washington Partners, LLC, who serve as TESOL’s legislative consultants. Participants were provided key information to prepare for their meetings and given the opportunity to role play. The purpose of the briefings and the workshop were to help the participants practice and prepare for their meeting on Capitol Hill that afternoon.

The afternoon was set aside for individual meetings with members of Congress. Participants were required to set up three individual meetings with members of Congress identified by TESOL, though some took the initiative to set up more. Although most participants met with key congressional staff, some had the opportunity to meet with their members of Congress directly. Those who did not get a chance to meet directly with their representatives were not disappointed; members of Congress depend on their staff, so in speaking to the appropriate aide, participants knew they had the ear of the representative.

Over dinner at the end of the day, all the participants shared their experiences and what they had learned. All of the participants agreed that, overall, this event was a very positive experience for them and for TESOL.

Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) (l) meets with Jory Samkoff-Oulhiad (r) of New Jersey TESOL/Bilingual Education.

TESOL Advocacy Day 2008 participants: Front row (l-r): Ariadna Clare (Penn-TESOL East), Robyn Dowling-Grant (MATSOL), Naomi Elliott (WAESOL), Past President Sandy Briggs, Jackie Moase-Burke (MITESOL), Ruth Hoenick (WITESOL), Jory Samkoff-Oulhiad (NJTESOL-BE), Rachele Lawton (MDTESOL).

Back row (l-r): Laura Grace Curtis (GATESOL), Nancy Dunlap (TexTESOL II), Julie Nora (Rhode Island), Alberto Lozano (CATESOL), President Shelley Wong, Cornelia Randolph (NYS TESOL), President Elect Mark Algren, Maja Teref (Illinois TESOL/BE).

“TESOL Advocacy Day 2008 was an absolutely fantastic event!” exclaimed Jory Samkoff-Oulhiad of Clifton Public Schools, who represented NJTESOL/BE. “I participated in the first TESOL Advocacy Day in 2006, and this event has come so far in such a short time. It was well organized, and I was well prepared with all the information sent out ahead of time.”

All participants were provided with materials to take back to their affiliates about the event, including information sheets on the issues and grassroots advocacy tips. In addition, the participants agreed to share the experience with their affiliates through their affiliate newsletters and Web sites.

More information about TESOL Advocacy Day, including additional photos and videos of the event, is available on the TESOL Web site. If you are interested in learning more about your congressional representatives and the legislative issues TESOL is tracking, go to the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at

More Resources:
  • No Child Left Behind: Title I Overview
  • TESOL Joins Forces with NABE and CAL to Strengthen Bilingual Education
  • Recommendations for the Reauthorization of Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Making U.S. Schools Effective for English Language Learners, Part 2
  • President's Message: September/October/November 2002