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TESOL Visits Capitol Hill (June 2007)

On June 20, 2007, 13 TESOL members representing 11 U.S.-based affiliates met in Washington, D.C., for TESOL Advocacy Day 2007. Similar to last year’s TESOL Advocacy Day, the event 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 in 2007. 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 2007 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 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.

TESOL Advocacy Day 2007 participants
Back row (l-r): Maja Teref, Anne Shoemaker, Maria Lozano, Linda Foley-Vinay, Shelley Wong
Front row (l-r): Naomi Elliot, Nancy Steward, Charlene Ruble, Sandy Briggs, Jackie Moase-Burke, Sandee McHugh-McBride, Minah Woo, Joanne Beard

TESOL Advocacy Day commenced with a welcome from TESOL President Sandy Briggs. The participants were also joined by President-Elect Shelley Wong. The morning workshop was led by John Segota, Advocacy and Communications Manager, and was comprised of two panel briefings. The first 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 representatives from the National Council of La Raza and the International Reading Association to discuss the activities and viewpoints of each organization regarding the reauthorization.

“The briefings were excellent,” stated Jackie Moase-Burke of Michigan TESOL. “The panels and question & answer period were extremely helpful. I really appreciated the variety of panel members, as each added to my understanding of the current status of NCLB.”

Joanne Beard of New York State TESOL agreed: “All the presenters were great, but the panel of congressional staffers was amazing. The fact that they came to speak to us means, to me, that they consider our advocacy important.”

Following these briefings, participants attended an interactive workshop 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, 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 was 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.

Maja Teref from Illinois TESOL-BE meets with Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL).

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

“I really felt that I had the power to effect change by talking to members of Congress and their staffers,” said Anne Shoemaker of Eastern Pennsylvania TESOL. “It was clear that meeting the needs of English language learners is an important issue to the Congress, and it was very affirming to be seen and treated as an important resource on these issues.”

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

Joining TESOL President Sandy Briggs and President Elect Shelley Wong for Advocacy Day 2007 were the following affiliate representatives:

Affiliate Representative
CATESOL Charlene Ruble
ConnTESOL Maria Lozano
Illinois TESOL-BE Maja Teref
Maryland TESOL Minah Woo
MATSOL Linda Foley-Vinay
MITESOL Jackie Moase-Burke
NJTESOL/BE Sandee McHugh-McBride
NYSTESOL Joanne Beard
PennTESOL-East Anne Shoemaker
TexTESOL II Nancy Edwards
WAESOL Naomi Elliott

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.