Success Stories

2019-2020 Phyliciá Anderson

ELLevate! teacher Phylicia Anderson

Inspired by her second grade teacher, Phyliciá Anderson decided to become an educator and, like Ms. Wafer did, encourage her students to be the best version of themselves. “She simply showed me how much she cared by the way she talked to and encouraged me”, Phyliciá remembers. Phyliciá has been a teacher for nine years. For the first seven she taught English and for the last two years, she has been teaching Journalism at Braswell High School, one of the two ELLevate! partner schools.

Phyliciá is well aware of the many challenges the emergent bilingual students she serves and their families face in the school system:

A lot of my emergent bilinguals struggle with learning the cultural aspects of just simply going to school… I also see how parents often feel disconnected with the school and feel they do not have the necessary tools to help their child be successful in school.

Thus, she strives to be a mentor to her students and an advocate for their families; someone they can come to about any situation. “I know most lessons in life are not learned by the curriculum they learn in the classroom, and I strive to allow my life experiences to help my students succeed”, Phyliciá shares. This is why she finds the most satisfaction in seeing her students excited about learning something new.

An exemplar participant in ELLevate!, Phyliciá has obtained her Certificate of Biliteracy from the Department of Literacy and Learning at Texas Woman's University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Reading Education. Through the learning experiences that ELLevate! has offered, she has been able to identify or develop tools and implement them in her classroom to help her students strengthen their bilingualism:

I have learned so much while in ELLevate, but one lesson that stood out the most was when we were asked to put ourselves in the shoes of our emergent bilinguals by learning a different language. This simple activity gave me first-hand experience as to what my emergent bilinguals go through when trying to learn English.

Furthermore, the mentoring support that Phyliciá has received from ELLevate! has helped her see a future for herself in academia. She has been working as graduate research associate with the ELLevate! team, and is currently investigating the role of book clubs in diverse students’ literacy development. On her future as university faculty, Phyliciá shares:

I love the knowledge about the field of education I have learned while being in this program. I never knew there were so many people who are standing with me, or I with them, in the fight for our students’ education. I would like to be a college professor and encourage other teachers to make a difference in their classrooms.


2019-2020 Yismelle Durán

ELLevate! teacher Yismelle Duran

Yismelle Durán grew up in the Dominican Republic. She has a Law degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, a M.Sc. in International Affairs from Florida State University, and a M.Sc. in Globalization and Development from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Currently, Yismelle is pursuing a Ph.D. in Reading Education at Texas Woman’s University through a Tier 4 ELLevate! scholarship.

After obtaining her Master’s degrees, Yismelle joined the faculty at her alma mater, pursuing her long-held interest in teaching and advocacy. She shares:

Since I was a teenager, I have had a desire to share my knowledge with others so I became a member of a group of peer leaders, who would help educate other teenagers on relevant topics for people our age. I then became a voice for young people in a national organization in my country.  I was a board member and I would always present in conferences representing and advocating for the rights of the youth, nationally and internationally.

Yismelle is currently Head of the World Languages Department at Braswell High School, one of the two ELLevate! partner schools, where she has taught Spanish and French for the last four years. As a language teacher there, she has had the opportunity to serve emergent bilingual students. With her multilingual and multicultural background, she sees herself as a role model to these students, and works toward helping them deal with important challenges at school and at home. She notes:

One of the biggest challenges is not receiving the right instructions because their needs are not being understood or met by instructors and the administration. At home, I feel their biggest challenge is not having the resources for being successful at school (e.g. access to technology, texts in all their languages, etc.).

Yismelle has made her purpose to tackle those challenges at Braswell, and has found in ELLevate! the vehicle to do it. In terms of understanding the needs, she relates that being a multilingual person, she thought she was well acquainted with those needs. However, she recognizes that her awareness and instructional skills have greatly improved through her involvement in all of the professional development tiers offered to her by ELLevate:

There are many factors that affect emergent bilinguals here in the United States that I had no idea of. I have learned so much with the ELLevate courses and trainings that I don’t know where to begin. I’m now more cognizant of certain instructional practices that I can use to enhance the learning opportunities of my students.

Additionally, Yismelle has become, as she puts it, “an ear and a voice” for EBs in her school. To support students’ instruction, she is offering training on multicultural resources for language development to her colleagues. She is enhancing this training with culturally responsive, multilingual resources that ELLevate! has provided, and that are available to all teachers and students at Braswell.


Collage of pictures of BHS teachers and new books

Yismelle attributes to her experience in ELLevate! for a change in career path. Although her academic background is not in literacy or education, she has become passionate about this field after starting the program’s Tier 3. This tier consisted of three graduate courses in the areas of second language and biliteracy, second language literacy and content areas, and English learners engagement through curricular cultural connections. Her new passion led her to apply for a Tier 4 ELLevate! scholarship in 2018, that will allow her to complete a doctoral degree in 2022. Through the Ph.D. in Reading Education program, Yismelle has the opportunity to integrate and cultivate her interests in biliteracy, advocacy, and higher education. She notes:

I am trying to make anything in my power to make sure that they [EBS] receive the best education possible and that other professionals understand their specific needs and adapt instruction in a way that will benefit them the most. I also want to be able to share this new knowledge with future teachers, and I know that obtaining my doctorate degree will open doors for me to get there.

2017-2018 Seth Ross

Seth Ross

Mr. Seth Ross, who his students call “Profe”, is a high school English as a Second Language, English Language Arts, Reading, United States History, and World History teacher for students new to the U.S. He defines himself as a change agent and has used his career to bring positive change to immigrant youth’s lives for 14 of his 18 years as an educator. In 2017, Seth became a participant in the ELLevate! grant (English Language Learner Educators Vested in the Advancement of Teaching Excellence), which is funded through the National Professional Development Program of the Office of English Language Acquisition.

The ELLevate! grant is committed to improving the educational outcomes of high school ELLs through providing their teachers effective professional development. Through this program, Seth has successfully completed three graduate courses focused on second language acquisition, literacy instruction, and family engagement. He has also received a scholarship to continue his graduate studies as he pursues an M. Ed. of Reading Education from Texas Woman’s University, focusing on biliteracy. He will graduate in 2020 with a Master’s degree and certificate of biliteracy, and will become a Reading Specialist through the Texas Education Agency. In addition to receiving this scholarship, Seth has also participated in various professional development sessions at his school and has received many books for his classroom, all made possible through the ELLevate! grant.

Seth comes from what he describes as humble beginnings, growing up in poverty on the Texas/Mexico border. “We grew up poor, the kind of poor where the only thing in our twenty-year-old refrigerator was a pitcher of water.” His small adobe home had bars on the windows because the neighborhood was tough—full of crime, drugs, and gangs. Although Seth is not Latino, all of his friends were Latino Spanish-speakers. Consequently, he eventually learned to speak fluent Spanish and taught his friends to speak English, foreshadowing what would become his life’s passion.

The public library became a safe haven for Seth and it is where he learned the joy of reading, although he notes that he did not have access to books with Latino or African-American characters. Then, a whole new world opened before his eyes when he discover diverse books. Seth explains: “It was 1988, and Sandra Cisneros had just published The House on Mango Street, and my freshman English teacher, Mr. Oakes, allowed us to read the book, even though it was not a district-approved text.” For the first time in his life, and the lives of his friends, Seth saw himself in a book. He says that the main character’s family, her neighborhood, and her life could have been his own. The book inspired Seth and his classmates because someone had felt it was important enough to write about people like them. The same year, his high school teacher expanded readings to include The Outsiders, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Bless Me, Última, as well as the writings of Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Because of Seth’s love for reading, he works to instill this passion of reading in all of his students. It is important to him to recommend books that speak to his students, books that allow them to see themselves in the stories they read. Because of Seth’s upbringing, he is aware of the many challenges his high school ELLs experience when trying to learn a new language. He also recognizes the importance of literacy. A snapshot of his classroom shows books everywhere—books written by diverse authors with different experiences. Every space is filled with rich and diverse books. Seth explains, “My students can escape their difficult lives and find themselves in stories in the same way that I did. They can see that their lives and their stories are worth telling and worth listening to. In the end, I know that reading can transform their lives.”

Seth’s scholarship to receive his Master’s degree through the ELLevate! grant has already made a great impact because he has been able to apply what he is learning about second language acquisition and literacy to his classroom and share widely with others. In just his first year in the grant, he has given a presentation in his school district in how to support ELLs in the classroom, shared his classroom experiences in a podcast with the National Writing Project, and has been accepted to present at the National Council for Teachers of English. Additionally, Seth has co-authored a chapter for a book coming out in 2018 with TESOL Press, Engaging Research: Transforming Practices for the High School Classroom, and because he is so passionate about his students’ stories, he has recently started a website where they can publish their writing: Global Voices.

“Profe” Ross is certainly a change agent, making a difference in his classroom, school district, and far beyond as he influences the education of high school English Language Learners directly and indirectly through his passionate work. He recently posted a motivational message for his students on Twitter that illustrates his commitment to them: “You are capable of greatness! Never forget that!”

2018-2019 Corinna Greb

ELLevate! student Corinna Greb

Corinna Greb, a teacher for almost 15 years, takes her love for science to her high school classroom and finds inspiration in her students’ “Aha!” moments when they realize why it is important to learn about Biology and the Earth. A first generation college student, Corinna received a B.S. Degree in Zoology from Humboldt State University in Northern California.

“I always knew I would go to college and do something amazing with my life. It was never a question of if I could, but where and what would I do”.

Indeed, she is truly doing something amazing with her life. For the past 10 years, Corinna has worked in Denton High School, one of ELLevate!’s partner schools, serving many emergent bilingual (EB) students. She is a champion of science and multilingualism, leveraging all of her students’ languages in her teaching.  Among other courses, she is currently teaching ESL Biology and considers that the language barrier in content specific classes is one of the main challenges that EBs face in school. In pursuing her goal of helping students be the best they can be, Corinna is intentional in creating spaces for all of her students to learn through culturally and linguistically meaningful ways.

“ELLevate! has helped me realize my true passion in teaching and focus on vocabulary and language acquisition for not just our EBs, but all students learning science”.

Corinna was hesitant about participating in ELLevate!, though. Two years ago, she did not think this program was for her since, in her own words, she “did not teach reading, English, or language”. However, following her colleagues’ encouragement to be part of this program, she successfully completed courses on second language acquisition, bilingualism, content literacy, and diversity that helped her see her students’ abilities in new ways.

“I have learned so much and changed the way I teach all my students because of ELLevate! I have learned so many new strategies and ways to look at literacy, not just in an ELA class, but as a science teacher. We are all reading teachers, just some of us teach reading through our content areas”.

Additionally, Corinna has embraced many opportunities ELLevate! has offered her. Earning a graduate degree has been a goal that she set for herself since she was a young child. With ELLevate!’s Tier 4 scholarship, she will achieve this goal in December, when she graduates with an M.Ed. in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum from TWU.

“By going to graduate school, I have become more aware of the inequity in our education system and it makes me want to strive to be a better teacher and learner. I think I am a much better teacher and person because of this project and because I have gotten to work with some of the best teachers on our campus who care for our students as much as I do. Together we make a difference”.

Finally, Corinna is not just earning an M.Ed., but also a Certificate of Biliteracy as part of the first cohort in this innovative program at TWU. She has taken four courses where she has learned how to assess and instruct for students’ English literacy development while also supporting their home language literacy development. She does this even though she teaches in an English-medium classroom. She has created a translanguaging classroom through utilizing technology, multilingual literature, and most importantly, her students’ vast language resources. We celebrate Ms. Greb’s accomplishments and recognize her as a champion for her multilingual students.

Page last updated 5:45 PM, November 20, 2020