2015 Arizona ELL Teacher of the Year

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Karen Hurley, a fifth grade teacher at Bret R. Tarver Elementary in the Cartwright Elementary School District, has been chosen as the 2015 Arizona ELL (English Language Learners) Teacher of the Year.


Jose Cardenas: A Cartwright Elementary School district teacher was named the 2015 Arizona ELL teacher of the year. Karen Hurley, a fifth grade teacher at Bret R. Tarver Elementary, received the honor in a school assembly. Joining me now to talk about the award is Karen Hurley. Karen, welcome.

Karen Hurley: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: ELL, English language learners.

Karen Hurley: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: And we noted that you received the award during the assembly but there's more to come later this week?

Karen Hurley: Starting tomorrow, I will be attending the conference in Tucson and it is the big ELL conference in the state of Arizona. In the evening there will be an awards banquet in which I will receive the award, and then further professional development opportunities, perhaps involved with ADE, the Arizona department of education in some capacity working with their department.

Jose Cardenas: So I want to talk about the process by which you were selected and maybe some of the secrets of your success if you'll reveal that. Explain a little bit about what Arizona currently does with English language learners. What's the program?

Karen Hurley:Currently, we have students that are identified as English language learners in classrooms that have the four hour literacy block. Or some sort of intensive literacy development program.

Jose Cardenas: And they take a test in terms of their English?

Karen Hurley: They do, there's a test called the Arizona English language learners assessment and it is our language proficiency examination here in the state of Arizona so if they have not passed that test showing English language proficiency, they are placed in an ell classroom, an sei classroom is another categorization that we give that, structured English immersion. The teachers in that classroom have to be certified to teach English language learners.

Jose Cardenas:And they test out when they've reached a certain level of proficiency?

Karen Hurley: They are tested every year that they are in the program and when they reach proficiency, they are exited out of the program with help and assistance as needed and they're certainly monitored throughout their educational program to make sure that they are receiving the instruction that they need at their level to help them be successful.

Jose Cardenas: And at least starting out it's what, four hours a day of structured English immersion?

Karen Hurley: In my classroom it is four hours so I have an integrated four hour block that I teach listening and speaking, vocabulary, reading, grammar and writing.

Jose Cardenas:And we've been at this, we, the state of Arizona, have been at this for a while now. And you've been at it for a while. What's your assessment about how we're doing or are we reaching the kids? Are they learning English in a way that they can effectively succeed in school?

Karen Hurley: I do believe that students are receiving that instruction. They are receiving what they need to be English language proficient. I know when we first started there were multiple classrooms at great levels. So you might have two or three SEI, ELL classrooms at each grade level in a school and at my particular school, it's kindergarten, first grade definitely have three classrooms. By the time they get to fifth grade I'm the only SEI teacher out of five.

Jose Cardenas: And you would hope so because the older they get, the more difficult it's going to be for them.

Karen Hurley: Correct.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us about the process by which you were selected. I understand it was pretty rigorous?

Karen Hurley: The beginning process I'm not sure the date but sometime maybe August, my principal nominated me to the state of Arizona so they must put out a nomination call for teachers. And so I was nominated and informed in September that I became -- that I was a semifinalist for the award. At that time, I filled out a pretty lengthy application. It was good, though, just thinking about my philosophy and reinvigorated me thinking about the students that I serve. From that I was selected as a finalist. At that time, people from the Arizona department of education conducted classroom visits.

Jose Cardenas:So you have people from the department coming in and observing you working with your students?

Karen Hurley: Yes, yes.

Jose Cardenas:And it's only after that process that you were finally awarded or given this award?

Karen Hurley: Correct. And so my principal and people at the district office knew but I was not informed that I was the winner. My family was contacted at the beginning of the week and I didn't find out until -- it was several weeks before I found out I was awarded this great honor.

Jose Cardenas:They were very good at keeping the secret.

Karen Hurley: Very good, too good.

Jose Cardenas:So tell us the secret of your success. How do you reach these kids?

Karen Hurley: I don't know if it's a secret. I am in an amazing district, Cartwright Elementary School District has ensured that we are delivering quality, world-class education to all of our students and there are many support systems in place. So I participate in SEI model training. I participate in technology opportunities and learning geared just for ELL students. So I have a lot of support around me to help me. But I've always wanted to be a teacher and every day is a new day. It's a wonderful day. So my secret isn't so much a secret. It's just passion for what I do. I love what I do. Every morning I turn on the lights in my classroom and I'm so happy to be there. And when my students come in, our family is reunited and we call each other, we're part of a family. But I feel at the school site we're a family, at the district level we're a family. We talk about that. So my secret isn't anything other than just passion and motivation to give my students everything that they deserve.

Jose Cardenas: Well, whatever you're doing, keep doing it and good luck at the conference. I understand you'll be sharing your thoughts with other people, probably for the next year or so.

Karen Hurley: I hope so. Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte."

Karen Hurley: Thank you!

Karen Hurley: Teacher at Bret R. Tarver Elementary

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