Educator of the Quarter: Cally Parke
December 29 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Fall 2018 Educator of the Quarter
Cally Parke, Albermarle Road Elementary
by Sharon Kugelmass
Cally Parke spent the summer in Costa Rica, immersing herself in the language and culture. She walked two miles a day to school and back to study Spanish. She explored the charms of Heredia, the historic pueblo in the northeastern part of the country. She made lasagna for her host family. Mostly though, she spoke Spanish, and that’s what her trip was all about.
Parke has been an educator for the past 12 years, now working at Abermarle Road Elementary school teaching English language learners — K through 5 students who do not speak English as their primary language. She’s seen firsthand how much the language barrier her students face can make it hard to find help with homework or participate in school events.
Parke’s goal is to bridge that gap by building stronger bonds between parents, students and the school, and because of that, she’s made it a priority to get firsthand knowledge of their lives.
Two years ago, Parke visited Quito, Ecuador, where she saw the challenges many of her students and families faced in their native countries, including poverty and unsafe living conditions. It gave her “a brand-new perspective,” she said, “as to why families would leave to make a better life for their children in America.”
When Parke returned from Ecuador, she made some big changes. She stepped up her Spanish language learning, took classes at CPCC, attended Spanish conversation hour at International House, practiced cultural diversity in her classroom and changed her teaching style. She introduced read-aloud books with characters from other countries, brought in musical instruments from Central America, where most of her students are from, and developed inclusion and exchange programs in which students shared their family stories, customs and favorite foods.
Parke said she still doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, but her experiences have helped her build relationships with her students.
“The parents were so appreciative when they heard me try,” Parke said. “Often times we would chuckle [at my mistakes] and move on.”
Still, Parke wanted to get better and looked for affordable immersion programs. That’s when she learned about the WACC Scholar award, a program for educators who are committed to promoting international education in their schools. She earned a stipend, and that allowed her to travel to Costa Rica in June.
When Parke returned to school this fall, she used her experience to provide support at parent-teacher conferences and tailor her teaching methods to meet the needs of students and parents. She plans to launch an Estamos Unidos (We are United) program to connect parents who are not native English speakers, help them better understand the curriculum and show them how to more effectively help their children at home. In doing so, she will stress the importance of bi-lingual education and encourage parents to maintain their Hispanic traditions and language.
“One can be both American and bi-lingual,” she said. “It is a gift to be shared and cultivated, not a trade-off.”
In our own school district, more than one-third of students are non-native English speakers. You can help these students gain confidence in English by volunteering with the schools or at the International House.