Chester County Press : Page 2

Oxford teacher to embark on mission trip to Mexico

Maggie Horgan

For Leah McComsey, the trip she has planned for May, to spend one week in Mexico, will be a much more meaningful experience than any vacation could ever be. <br /> <br /> McComsey, Lead Elementary English as a Second Language (ESL) Program Specialist for the Oxford Area School District (OASD) elementary schools, was selected to represent the commonwealth in the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)’s Binational Migrant Education Program (BMEP), an outreach mission effort that began last year. <br /> <br /> Only two other states participate in the program—Oregon and Arkansas—which means that McComsey is one of three United States representatives who will embark on the educational journey. <br /> <br /> The PDE initiated the commonwealth’s BMEP for the purpose of providing assistance to educators in Mexico currently teaching English to Spanish speaking students. As the United States’ population of Mexicans and other Spanish speaking citizens continues to rise, the experts at the PDE wanted to zero in on preparing teachers in places such as Mexico to help their students who will be transferring to American schools. PDE’s teaching specialists agreed that specific strategies and educational skills should be taught, in order to optimize the potential success of foreign students academically, when they arrive here. <br /> <br /> Through the BMEP, one teacher from each of the participating states will spend one week in Cuernavaca, Moreles, Mexico. <br /> <br /> The program runs for three weeks, so the teachers will rotate, each taking a different week. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Binational Migrant Education Program is funding the airfare, books and materials for the trip; Mexico’s coordinators of the program will cover lodging, meals and transportation while McComsey is in their country. <br /> <br /> A comprehensive application had to be submitted by all teachers interested in participating, complete with eight essay questions centered around ensuring a teacher’s qualifications and attributes. <br /> <br /> All potential candidates had to be certified ESL Specialists in Pennsylvania. <br /> <br /> “I was so honored when (I heard that) they selected me,” McComsey said humbly. Although she isn’t sure how many applicants there were from Pennsylvania, she knows it was a high number, because just as she submitted her application, the PDE was beginning to inform teachers that no more were being accepted. <br /> <br /> “Dr. (Ray) Fischer (OASD Assistant Superintendent) encouraged me to apply,” McComsey recalled. Her husband also supported her thoroughly, and offered to hold down the fort at home with their two children, while McComsey completes the outreach trip. McComsey begun teaching at Oxford in August of 2003, and has held her present title as “ESL Program Specialist” for two years. <br /> <br /> “It’s just phenomenal!” Dr. Mary Jane Gales, Superintendent of OASD, said, regarding the mission trip McComsey was selected to embark on. Dr. Gales described McComsey as a fantastic ESL Specialist, and said she is certain that McComsey will do a terrific job representing Pennsylvania for this unique migrant education outreach program in May. <br /> <br /> Never having been to Mexico, McComsey said she is very excited about the upcoming adventure. <br /> <br /> Although she completed many Spanish courses throughout her high school and college years, McComsey said her best learning experience came from spending her senior year in college studying in Spain. “That’s really how I solidified my Spanish skills.” Since she has gone from speaking only English to being completely bilingual over the years, McComsey believes she is at an advantage as she works with children in her job. <br /> <br /> “I truly understand what these kids are going through when learning a second language, because I’ve been there,” she noted. <br /> <br /> McComsey explained that making the transition from Mexico to the United States as seamless an experience as possible in terms of schooling, is a fundamental goal of the BMEP. Changing schools is stressful in and of itself for kids, even when language barriers do not exist and a child does not have to move to another country. <br /> <br /> It is with eagerness and enthusiasm that McComsey looks forward to teaching educators how to best get children ready for migrating to our country. At Oxford alone, she said, “We have grown unbelievably (in the number of ESL students here) in the years that I’ve been here.” She said she loves being able to teach ESL here, and finds her students to be very appreciative. McComsey is grateful for the opportunity to help foster better preparation in Mexico, before children arrive here.

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