• Andrea Echelberger

    Beyond Words

    Hamline MAESL student helps immigrants thrive

    MAESL student Andrea Echelberger wakes up every morning excited to go to work. No, really! That's because she knows she's making a difference in the lives of the immigrants and refugees she teaches at Minnesota Literacy Council in Arlington Hills.

     "We're not just teaching English," Echelberger said. "We're teaching life skills and how to help people survive and thrive and help their families to thrive in an English-speaking community."

    Echelberger recalled the time a lawyer spoke to her ESL students about state housing laws. Afterwards, he provided legal assistance to several Bhutanese and Karen refugees in the class who were being severely overcharged by their landlord.

    "It's something that the landlord got away with over and over because the people that live in this apartment building don't speak English and don't understand their rights and the laws in Minnesota on renters' rights," she said.

    Echelberger strives to "empower" her students to become community educators themselves and serves as an advocate for those in the language minority. That social justice focus is a core value of Hamline's MAESL program, she said.

    "We had a discussion in class about what the students learned about housing laws in Minnesota and how they can take that back and educate their friends, their families, and their neighbors," she said.

    Flexible Classes, Fantastic Professors

    Echelberger, who has a bachelor's degree in English literature, decided to pursue a career in ESL after serving two years as an ESL teacher through Americorps. She enrolled in Hamline's MAESL program in the fall of 2007 after landing her job at the Minnesota Literacy Council.

    Echelberger said she considered MAESL programs at other schools but chose Hamline because of its "stellar reviews" and the program's flexibility, which allows her to work full-time while taking classes in the evening at her own pace.

    She took two of her classes online, while engaging in weekly online discussions with her professors and other students. "That was unique to any other online course that I've ever taken," she said.

    The professors are "fantastic," Echelberger added. "I have not had a professor that I didn't thoroughly enjoy learning from. They all have long careers in ESL and exceptional experience. A lot of them have spent time abroad, spent time working in community programs, and speak multiple languages. So they've been language learners themselves and they bring their personal experiences into the classroom."

    She also appreciates the practical experience her classes provide, like curriculum building, lesson planning, and real-life projects.

    Mastering 'pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shuh n'

    Echelberger said all of her classes have been interesting, but one in particular-Phonetics and Phonology-directly impacted her teaching.

    "Learning the research behind pronunciation instruction and learning about some of the effective ways to integrate it into the classroom was for me just sort of eye-opening," she said. "It's something I always thought was important, but I never knew what to do with it until I took that class."

    Echelberger delved deeper into the topic after she made it the focus of her capstone project. The capstone is the culminating scholarly project for advanced degrees in education. It includes research that draws from the student's formal study and professional and personal development.

    In her research, Echelberger is looking at ways to teach pronunciation to low-literacy learners. Most of the ESL materials available are intended for students who already can read or write in English or their native language, she said. "It's something that is incredibly important for people but that a lot of ESL teachers either don't believe in teaching or don't feel comfortable teaching, so it's frequently lacking in ESL classrooms."

    After completing the MAESL program, Echelberger plans to spend some time teaching ESL in Southeast Asia, possibly at a university or a refugee camp. All of the programs she's interested in applying to overseas require a master's degree, she said. She chose Hamline University to help her achieve her career goals because, simply put, "it's the best."

    "I can't recommend Hamline highly enough," Echelberger said. "The best part is, as I've been working full-time and going to college, I've been able to take what I'm learning in classes and immediately apply it to what I'm already doing in my job. Almost nothing has been theoretical. It's all been immediately relevant and hands-on, and I think not a lot of other programs offer that opportunity."

    Echelberger earned her Certificate for Teachers of Adult ESL from Hamline and anticipates completing her master's degree in the spring of 2013.

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