Giving Thanks

Entrepreneurs, amplified by the media, often talk about the immense challenge of starting and growing an organization. We hear that the work is difficult and all-consuming, emotionally draining, isolating, and often economically difficult, especially in the beginning. These challenges are indeed real, and as an entrepreneur I have felt each of these and more. Yet what I feel much more often is immense gratitude. It is a privilege to work closely with a small and passionate team, to address important challenges, and to serve our nation’s educators who do heroic work each and every day in conditions that can make the work of an entrepreneur look like a walk in the park. And so the approach of Thanksgiving presents a terrific opportunity for me, on behalf of my colleagues at Ellevation, to enumerate some of what we are thankful for.

We are thankful for our nation’s educators, in particular those that serve English Language Learners in school systems from Maine to Alaska and everywhere in between. Over 50% of US teachers have at least one English Learner in their classrooms, a significant increase in the last generation. These are students with immense promise, indeed so much of our nation’s fabric has been woven by citizens who did not speak English as their first language. And these students present unique challenges. ESL and Bilingual educators work each day to connect with students that may be too timid to speak, or who are scarred by the difficulties in their home countries that drove their families to emigrate, or who are in need of a wide range of resources and interventions as they develop English language proficiency. These educators are smart, caring, and patient, and work to ensure all children have a chance at success in school and beyond.

We are thankful for the families of English Language Learners that entrust their children to our nation’s schools. Navigating entry into school, and the ongoing challenges associated with placement, monitoring, and reclassification, can be bewildering. Yet these families know that a good school, and more specifically, great teachers, are indispensible. We are thankful that Ellevation represents even a small part of the work that schools and educators do with these students, and we take very seriously the trust they place in us.

We are thankful for our team at Ellevation. One core value that we hold dear is the idea of “Service”. By this we mean we will do whatever it takes to serve our partners, the school districts and educators we work with, and each other, to ensure we are as effective as possible. The team at Ellevation manifests this each and every day, along with our other values: Persistence, Sustainability, Continuous Learning, and Living our Mission. I believe unconditionally in the power of great teams to achieve extraordinary results. Our team will continue to listen, learn, and innovate, and support our partners working to ensure that English Learners are prepared to achieve their highest aspirations. I am sure our team will understand a special thanks for our colleagues Carrie and Hal, who developed the early foundation for Ellevation, worked tirelessly to serve our early partners, and have been wonderful and valuable members of our organization.

We are thankful for so many terrific organizations in this country that support, augment, and make possible the work we do. The WIDA Consortium is a leading light, developing the standards, assessments, community, and research base that will help us all make progress. The NewSchools Venture Fund supports organizations like Ellevation, pushing us to think big and do important work on behalf of our nation’s underserved students. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation does innovative work to support leading organization’s that can have a measureable impact on our nation’s underserved students.  Consortia like BOCES in New York State, the Education Service Centers in Texas, and others bring districts and school officials together to solve challenges collectively. Colorin Colorado helps knit together a community of individuals and organizations focused on English Language Learners and provides valuable resources on instruction, policy and much more. There are many others that deserve mention; my apologies for those I did call out by name.

Finally, we are thankful for the privilege to work with the leaders of ESL, ELL, ESOL, and Bilingual programs in 31 states and growing. You all took a chance that a partnership with Ellevation could help inform instruction, enhance collaboration, and much more, improving your work with ELLs. We are grateful for your trust and will work each and every day to live up to our commitments and earn the trust you have placed in us.

In what I hope will become an annual tradition, we’d like to remind you of the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, which remains engraved on the pedestal of our Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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