Student hopes to be an advocate for English-language learners

July 21, 2021

Matti Colavolpe standing in classroom teaching students with others on smartboard in background

As a teacher, Matti Colavolpe `22, MAT `23 hopes to be an advocate for all students—especially English-language learners. She opposes when such students are labeled “behind” simply because they aren’t fluent in English.

“It doesn’t mean they aren’t on par in other content areas, or even ahead of their grade level,” said Colavolpe, a Spanish major in the School of Education’s dual-degree (3+1) MAT program. “That’s an important thing to recognize toward getting the student the best education we can.”

Colavolpe believes that multilingual fluency is essential toward creating a culturally responsive and engaging classroom for English learners. This spring, she put her own bilingual skills to the test during a remote internship with the Ometepe Bilingual School in Rivas, Nicaragua. Colavolpe helped Nicaraguan teachers develop lesson plans and taught language skills in both English and in Spanish to children between 3 and 8 years’ old.

“The school’s mission statement of cultivating students who are adaptable with language really resonated with me,” she said.

Colavolpe also started a pen-pal program between Ometepe and second-graders at Church Street Elementary School in Hamden, where she had previously worked as part of the America Reads tutoring program.

Writing letters back and forth did more than enable Nicaraguan students to improve their English, it exposed American students to nuances of the Spanish language and facilitated real cultural exchange.

“Giving students the chance to connect with each other like that was the coolest thing,” Colavolpe recalled.

Fresh off the success of her Ometepe internship, Colavolpe recently began another virtual teaching opportunity this summer with the Pavarotti Educational Center in Guatemala, one of Quinnipiac’s longstanding global partners.

She visited the Pavarotti Center prior to the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 as part of a course, and left a strong impression on the faculty. They kept in touch, and when an English teacher had to go on maternity leave, Colavolpe was offered to co-teach English workshops, this time to middle-school students.

“I observed the teacher through Google Meets a few times before she left to get a sense of what students are working on, so I feel comfortable,” she said.

When she completes her MAT, Colavolpe hopes to teach English-language learners at the elementary school level and do her part to implement the Spanish language in American public school settings. Her experiences have given her the tools, confidence and perspective to accomplish those goals.

“They’ve definitely influenced my teaching philosophy and shown me what a culturally responsive classroom really looks like,” she said.

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