The teachers of M-A’s English Language Development (ELD) program annually assign a writing project in which students enrolled in the class contact their senators and representatives. This assignment allows them to develop proficiency in English, as well as practice advocacy and activism in their classroom community.
An ELD student, Saul Rios, described his experience with another ELD project, in which they were able to speak about their interests on National Public Radio (NPR) news. “The project was so important to me because I wanted to express myself about a single topic I’ve always talked about in front of the school, and get people involved.” He claimed that he wanted to “try to share my ideas and make them feel confident to share something out loud just like I did.”
Carla Ferreira, one of the ELD teachers, described the project as “essentially writing letters to senators, and teaching ELD students of the Intermediate level, which is English Language Development 2, the process of letter writing.” Ferreira claimed that the idea was based off of the teachings of a Graduate School professor, Sarah Levine, who stressed the importance of assigning writing projects that would be applicable to real life people and circumstances. In the past, students either wrote letters or made group phone calls to senators, practicing and becoming more comfortable with the English language, meanwhile becoming politically active in the classroom. Ferreira wanted the students “to feel empowered to speak to their representatives, and speak to the people who make the laws that will ultimately affect them.” This year, she plans on having the students write letters to California senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. She added that “In preparation for doing that, we’re going to continue to keep learning about current events, but they will also be learning, kind of the bricks and mortar of letter writing, like, what sentences you use to open and close a letter — those different nuts and bolts of letter writing.”
She also described why it is so important to her that her students are able to advocate for themselves using writing and language in general. Ferreira stated, “Once Trump was elected, it became really important to find ways to make my students feel empowered. ” Not only have the students written letters, but they have also had the opportunity to talk to senators over the phone, with pre-prepared speeches. “This was when the DREAM Act was being rescinded. We had our first phone call last year with one of the senators, and a student volunteered to go first. It was such a beautiful moment because as soon as he was done speaking to them, and you could kind of see him shaking, and being afraid as he was talking, the entire class broke into spontaneous applause. It was such a special moment.” Ferreira stated that she hopes “that what they take out of this is that language is a kind of power that they have access to. That’s really the goal— that they can use their words to change the world around them.”