FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Each year the Indiana Department of Education recognizes one educator as Indiana Teacher of the Year. At the end of September, Lisa Clegg, an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher at Northrop High School learned she was a top 3 finalist for the 2022 program.
“It’s unbelievable, I did not expect it at all,” said Clegg, who has taught at Northrop for four years, but has been a teacher for nine.
As an ELL teacher, Clegg teaches immigrants and refugees English. Throughout the day in her classroom she has students from 30 different countries who speak 27 different languages.
“We just work hard, learning the language and learning the skills to be successful,” she said. “I love that I get to be an advocate for them and we really get to work hard on a common goal which is their success here in the United States.”
Clegg has shown immense support for her students from the beginning. Not long after she started at Northrop, she implemented an ELL peer mentor program.
“If we got a new student, I’d give them a tour of the building. But I realized it wasn’t as effective as I wanted it to be because I’m a native English speaker. So I really wanted the students’ first impressions of Northrop and of our school to be one that’s welcoming in their home language,” said Clegg.
So instead of a teacher, staff member or administrator, a higher level student – or peer mentor- introduces themselves to the new student, shows them around the building, and explains how everything works at Northrop.
This year, Clegg took it a step further. Thanks to a grant from the FWCS Foundation, she was able to provide the new students with backpacks full of school supplies.
“Just to help them start school off right on the very first day and not feel overwhelmed,” said Clegg. “It’s very expensive to be an immigrant or a refugee and sometimes those costs of schooling is a surprise and we never want someone to feel uncomfortable or that they’re different because they don’t have the supplies that they need.”
In the classroom, Clegg’s students have nearly doubled district average gains in language acquisition. She attributes that to the sense of community her students have built with each other, and a well-rounded curriculum at Northrop.
“I’ve had an amazing administration that allows us to have an ELL biology class, an ELL history class, that really help them get the language support in their content areas, so they’re not just getting English outside of the classroom, they’re getting inside that content area that makes their academic language really grow.”
The support she’s helped build among her students goes outside the classroom as well. It’s one of the things she’s most proud of.
“One of our students, actually two or three of our students are on the soccer team. There’s always a big cohort of students that go cheer them on, so that’s fun to go support each other,” she said. “Students who’ve exited the program are also on the soccer team so that’s fun for older, higher level students to support the younger ones as well with translations and relationships.”
Because she often has the same students for more than one year, Clegg makes it a point to support her students off campus as well.
“We loop our classes, so some of the juniors I’ve had since they were freshmen, these freshmen I will loop and have as sophomores, so we get to build relationships over time,” she said “I know their families, I visited them in the pandemic, their families are frequently small business owners so I eat at their restaurants, if I get my nails done it’s at one of their salons. This is my life and my kids know my students, we just really work hard to build a community for them.”
Clegg is proud to see how far some of her students have come. For the first time, there is an active ELL student on Northrop’s National Honor Society, there are ELL students who are on track for college, and students who are peer mentors, not just for the ELL program, but for the whole building.
Being recognized as a top three finalist for Indiana Teacher of the Year was no easy assignment, but day in and day out, Clegg shows a clear passion to put her ELL students on a path to success.
She credits her students for getting her this far, and will give them the extra credit if she wins.
“I take it back to the students, it just means that they are valued, that they are truly valued, and that’s what I work for. I want them to see value in themselves, I want our community to see value in them. Sometimes immigration is a controversial subject and it’s difficult. But my students are the hardest working students in the building. They achieve, they excel and I just want their goals and dreams to matter.”
The winner of the Indiana Teacher of the Year award will be announced later in October.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the ELL program in Fort Wayne Community Schools.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Indiana Teacher of the Year