#teens4citizenship—April, 2016 “Bulkeley High ESOL classes: Creating an Environment where Everyone feels Welcome”

#teens4citizenship—April, 2016 “Bulkeley High ESOL classes: Creating an Environment where Everyone feels Welcome”

Published on Mar 31, 2016

Teaching English to non-native speakers comes naturally to ESOL teacher, Billy Conroy.  Growing up in Connecticut with a mother whose native language is Portuguese, Billy was accustomed to hearing languages other than English around the house. “I loved hearing English spoken with an accent and when I hear it now [at school] it feels like home to me,” he said. 

Starting out as an elementary school teacher in Hartford Public Schools, Billy eventually realized he could get cross-endorsed for ESOL through the ARCTELL program.  Three years ago he made his way to Bulkeley High School and he hasn’t looked back.  “At first I was worried about moving to a high school population, but it has turned out to be a really good fit,” he explained.  “I like working with older students, especially from other countries. They are very hard workers and are an important part of our future.”  “Plus,” he added, “high school students understand sarcasm!  And I know that the English Learners (non-native English speakers) are beginning to master English when they start laughing at my jokes!”

Bulkeley has one of Hartford’s largest concentrations of high school English Learners, with a current total of 276, 135 of whom arrived in the U.S. within the past three years.  One of the challenges Billy and his colleagues face is the diversity within this community. Some are refugees, some are immigrants, some are undocumented, and some, such as those from Puerto Rico, are already citizens. Many different languages and cultures are represented.  “We work hard to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.  Students learn about each other and about America. And, they learn that in American we aren’t all the same.”


Photo Caption: ESOL teacher Billy Conroy and Bulkeley High School student, Manuela V. (from Columbia)


An important part of creating a welcoming environment is preparing immigrant and refugee teens to be U.S. citizens.  In partnership with Hartford Public Library, Billy is currently teaching a cohort of Bulkeley students the aspects of U.S. civics, history, geography, and culture that are aligned with the 100 questions on the citizenship exam.  Additionally, these students will have some “real life” opportunities, such as attending a naturalization ceremony and visiting the U.S. citizenship office in Hartford where they will get to meet some of the agents who actually conduct the citizenship interviews.   


A partnership between Hartford Public Library and Hartford Public Schools –HPL and HPS offer a variety of opportunities for immigrant teens and adults to learn more about the pathway to citizenship.  Teens have the chance integrate citizenship activities into independent studies or senior capstone seminars, take field trips, conduct outreach, or volunteer with Hartford’s adult immigrant communities.  Adults may take English and Citizenship classes at Hartford Library, as well as receive bilingual citizenship application assistance from the library’s BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) accredited staff.


For more information, please contact:

Judy Wyman Kelly, Teen Citizenship Project Coordinator, jwykelly@gmail.com (301) 503-8035

Homa Naficy, Hartford Public Library Chief Adult Learning Officer, hnaficy@hplct.org(860) 695-6334

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