Resources for world language teachers across the globe

When Jorge Morales immigrated to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico at age 9, he struggled with culture shock, assimilation to a new life and learning English. He remembers seeing other English learners struggling in school and wishing there were more helpful programs in place.

As Morales grew up, he realized he wanted to help students who are experiencing similar struggles. So he decided to become a teacher.

After graduating from Fresno State with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a Spanish teaching credential, he started teaching Spanish at Sunnyside High School in Fresno.

In 2016, Morales’ second year at Sunnyside, he was eager to find ways to be more effective, and he was inspired by the veteran teachers around him. He learned of workshops offered by the Central California World Language Project at Fresno State and decided to sign up.

World Language Workshops for Teachers

The project is part of a statewide initiative to improve access to high-quality world language instruction for K-12 educators. Both student teachers and experienced teachers are able to use resources and take them into their classrooms. Housed in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State, the project is positioned to provide targeted support for the needs of the Valley’s future teachers, including for those who speak Spanish or Hmong languages.

“Teachers learn and leave with strategies, ready to be implemented into the classroom,” said Nancy Perez, project director. “And that’s what makes the project interesting and appealing to teachers, because they come, they learn and they practice.”

The project is not just for world language teachers but provides resources for all teachers. Since the project started in 2014, it has trained and supported over 1,000 teachers.

Historically, workshops were hosted in person, but COVID-19 has shifted the workshops to virtual. The project is offering over 30 free online workshops from July 27 through March 12.

Read more.

Dr. Jenelle Pitt Parker Named Associate Dean of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development

In 2009, Dr. Jenelle Pitt Parker went on her first tour of the Fresno State campus. She was inspired by the variety of student centers, including the National Coalition Building Institute in the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, an organization that works to eliminate prejudice and inter-group conflict on campuses and in communities throughout the world.

Always being driven to make a difference in her local community, Pitt Parker was motivated as she began her journey at Fresno State as an assistant professor in the department of counselor education and rehabilitation.

Pitt Parker began pursuing higher education when she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from U.C. Riverside. She then enrolled in Michigan State University and earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation counselor education.  

Dedicated to advocating for others, Pitt Parker found many opportunities at Fresno State. 

During Pitt Parker’s first year, she was appointed to the President’s Commission on Human Relations and Equity where she helped to develop the University’s first diversity, equity and inclusion plan. She also served as a board member of the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute and was a member of the Respect Civility and Inclusion Resource Team at Fresno State. In addition to many other contributions over the past twelve years, Pitt Parker was recently appointed to the 2020-21 President’s Leadership Task Force and the African American Student Resource Center and has begun serving on the Humanics Advisory Council.

Pitt Parker is not only active at Fresno State but she is steeped in the community. She has served on the City of Fresno’s Disability Advisory Commission since 2010, where she provides recommendations and advice to the mayor of Fresno on city policies, procedures, and services to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities. She also serves on the Fresno Unified School District African American Academic Acceleration Task Force and uses data to find ways to help accelerate academic improvements for African American students in K-12.

“Being able to be a part of the larger work, on behalf of the 74,000 Fresno Unified students, has been something I’m very pleased to be involved in both professionally and personally,” said Pitt Parker.

Pitt Parker has served in many academic roles at Fresno State and wanted to further make an impact in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, so she pursued leadership. 

After serving as chair of the department of counselor education and rehabilitation for two years, Pitt Parker has been named associate dean of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. 

During this academic journey, Pitt Parker sought guidance from both her family and mentors. Her years spent at Fresno State have allowed her to nurture many interdisciplinary relationships which have led to various collaborations, partnerships, and invaluable support. 

“Considering the value of a university degree, particularly for use in a rapidly changing workforce, I remain focused on the need for stronger representation across faculty, staff and administrators, as it relates to matching demographics of the communities that are being served,” said Pitt Parker.

With extensive knowledge and research in rehabilitation and mental health, Pitt Parker is focused on wellness factors of faculty, staff and students returning to campus for the fall 2021 semester. As associate dean, she is also focusing on accreditation, high-impact and social justice philanthropy, and the needs of our students as they complete fieldwork and practicum at partnership sites in the community. 

The fall semester offers many opportunities and Pitt Parker is looking forward to navigating the ways she can provide support and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in work settings. 

Pitt Parker is humble and a driving force who represents dedication to her community and profession. She plans to one day become a university president and says that it’s good to have goals and to continue evolving and growing.

Student-athletes make lasting impact on Valley’s youth

Fresno State women’s soccer player Kayla King is driven to help others — and she has shown it throughout her college years. 

When she started her postsecondary education, she began working as a tutor for school-aged children. Tutoring came naturally to King and created an opportunity for her to work directly with children.

While earning a degree in liberal studies at Fresno State, King excelled at juggling both academics and athletics.

“Being a student-athlete really teaches you a lot about, not only yourself, but how important managing your time is,” said King, a Hollister native. “It teaches you great life lessons that people end up taking with them for the remainder of their lives.” 

Being a student-athlete provided King with a variety of opportunities to partner in the community. In April, King and other student-athletes spoke virtually at a College and Career Day at Wawona K-8 School in Fresno Unified School District. This annual event encourages students to think about their future and what opportunities lie ahead.

“We want local heroes for our kids,” said Bob Nelson, superintendent of Fresno Unified. “We want our kids to see student-athletes who came from their neighborhood and who will inspire them.”

At the College and Career Day, King connected with 15 seventh and eighth graders and shared her story of how she became an athlete. She remembers them asking many questions about what it’s like to be a student-athlete. 

Fresno State is fully immersed in the community and continues to find ways for increased collaboration. In just one year, student-athletes volunteered 4,000 community service hours at 460 organizations. In addition to serving the community, the athletics department had a collective 3.30 GPA in spring 2020. This marked the 19th consecutive semester of over a 3.0 departmental GPA. 

“We’re always looking for opportunities to impact our community, and specifically the youth in our community, in a positive manner,” said Terry Tumey, Fresno State’s director of athletics.

With over 6,000 new undergraduate students overall enrolled in fall 2020, 52 percent are from Fresno County. 

“Our staff, coaches and student-athletes understand the important platform we have, and we all collectively consider it an honor to give back and inspire the next generation of Bulldogs and leaders in our Valley,” Tumey said. “Partnering with local school districts to help encourage the importance of education is a privilege for us.”

Bulldog Buddies

Kendall Boliba, a Fresno State athletics academic adviser, grew up as an athlete and remembers engaging with the community in a pen pal project when she was younger. The program was impactful for her, and she wanted to create something similar in the Valley. 

In fall 2019, Boliba partnered with Prince Marshall, then principal of West Fresno Elementary School in Washington Unified School District. She pitched the idea of creating a pen pal program with Fresno State student-athletes. 

With support from Marshall and West Fresno Elementary teachers, Boliba organized for the women’s water polo team to become pen pals with a second-grade class in 2019. She called it the Bulldogs Buddy program. 

This program was powerful for West Fresno Elementary, not only by directly connecting students to collegiate athletes but also by positively reinforcing the power of reading and writing.

According to the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (2019), 53% of third-grade students in Fresno County didn’t meet the ELA/Literacy standards. And 83% of West Fresno Elementary third graders didn’t meet the standards.

West Fresno Elementary worked the Bulldogs Buddy program into its curriculum. The second graders wrote back-and-forth with their Fresno State pen pals and worked on incorporating open-ended questions and weekly writing prompts. Marshall said he saw a direct impact on the students’ eagerness to read and write.

“Writing is one of the most difficult tasks for our students, especially second-language learners,” said Beth Liberta, second-grade teacher at West Fresno Elementary. “When we write narratives, informational or persuasive stories the students struggle to develop proper sentences and those sentences are often very short and without details. However, when my students write to their Fresno State Buddies, their sentences are endless and so full of life.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily paused the program, Boliba plans to expand the Bulldogs Buddy program across multiple school districts in the Central Valley.

While this program provides a way for Fresno State student-athletes of any major to engage with and positively impact Valley youth, some decide to make a career out of teaching.

After King graduated with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, she immediately enrolled in Fresno State’s early childhood education graduate program. She is eager to get into the classroom and begin directly impacting Valley youth. She hopes to become an elementary school teacher and one day work with students with special needs.

Partnering with educational leaders across the valley

The Kremen School of Education and Human Development has grown long-lasting partnerships with school districts throughout the Central Valley. In close collaboration with these partners, Fresno State annually prepares and nurtures one of the largest cadre of teachers in all of California and also trains and supports sixty percent of the region’s school superintendents and educational leaders. With a return rate of eighty percent of all Fresno State’s graduates returning to the region to live and to work, more than 3 of 4 teachers in the Valley have their degrees from the Kremen School.  

In the interest of improving collaboration, several superintendents from across the Valley connected for their first in-person P12 Educational Leadership Superintendent’s Advisory Council meeting. After 16 long months of COVID restrictions, it was a refreshing time to reconnect and revive interests in new projects, programming and protocols for the re-opening of the state.

Pictured above:

  • Dean Randy Yerrick, Kremen School of Education and Human Development
  • Superintendent Todd Lile, Madera Unified School District
  • Superintendent Bob Nelson, Fresno Unified School District
  • Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell, Clovis Unified School District
  • Superintendent John Campbell, Kings Canyon Unified School District
  • Superintendent Wesley Sever, Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District
  • Assistant Professor Jessica Hannigan, Department of Educational Leadership at Fresno State

“The goal of the P12 Educational Leadership Superintendent’s Advisory Council is to join together P12 and higher education partners to collectively invest in the success of all educators,” said Jessica Hannigan, assistant professor of educational leadership and P12 program coordinator. “This advisory council is a needed feedback loop to Kremen and a platform initiated by the Dean to strengthen our relationships and enhance partnerships with local districts. Most importantly, Kremen seeks input from our stakeholders to obtain feedback for continuous system and program improvement.”  

We rely on our P12 partners for placement and collaborative support of counselors, teachers, and educational leaders and our P12 partners rely on our efforts to remain up-to-date, relevant and in touch with new developments in the state and nationally. Our P12 Educational Leadership and Administration certificate and degree are core components in their preparation.

The meeting, led by Dean Yerrick, began with a reading of an educator’s message gifted on a medallion by President Jiménez-Sandoval.

To boldly educate and empower students for success.

The purpose of partnerships is for the success of students. Our partners are making extraordinary strides in education. In attendance represented four California distinguished school district honorees, the third-largest school district in the state and one of eight charter elementary schools in the state. These partnerships have enhanced our teacher preparation programs and provided tools to translate theoretical learning to practical needs.

Having a strong bond with partners opens doors to endless opportunities.

From award-winning dissertation to impacting future school counselors

Johnny Phongsavath remembers walking the halls of the Fresno State Education Building in 2019, on the path to completing a graduate degree in school counseling. One of his courses that semester was “COUN 242: Seminar on Parent Education, Pupil Advocacy and Consulting,” taught by assistant professor Dr. Dominiqua Griffin. The course, Phongsavath said, opened his eyes to the importance of working with students, parents and their community.

That is exactly what Griffin hopes for. “The course goes over formal ways to engage in consultation, specifically as a school counselor,” she said. “Students also learn how to provide indirect services and partner with families or other stakeholders in the community.”

Award-Winning Dissertation

Griffin’s approach to counseling was refined in Barbados while working on her dissertation and interacting with local school counselors for nearly a year. She immersed herself in the schools across the island, with research focusing on school counseling services and understanding the role of the school counselor. 

In Barbados, 97% of the people are of African descent and it was colonized by the British until the 1960s. Griffin learned that counseling needed to be decolonized and the narrative of school counselors needed to be prioritized and centered. 

“As a result of privileging Western values and practices, school counselors’ partnerships with families, especially with poor families, focus on parent cooperation and discipline, rather than on mutuality and empowerment of parents,” said Dr. Julia Green Bryan, professor at The Pennsylvania State University and Griffin’s dissertation chair.

Griffin found that school-family-community partnerships are central aspects of Barbados school counseling and that data could help influence policy regarding counseling services for K-12 and university settings.

She obtained a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision, with a dual title in comparative and international education, from The Pennsylvania State University. During her doctoral studies, she published a dissertation on “An Investigation of School Counseling Roles, Practices, Challenges, and Demands in Barbados: A Comparative Analysis of School Counseling Programs in Barbados.”

Her dissertation was published in 2019. This year, Griffin won the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award from the American Educational Research Association’s Family, School, Community Partnerships Special Interest Group. She said she was shocked when she read that she received the award from such a competitive submission pool. 

“(Griffin’s) work provided an exemplary model as it identified important factors that influence school counseling in an international context,” stated Dr. Kayon Morgan, award committee representative and assistant professor at the University of Hartford. “(Her) presentation of an ethnographic approach is nuanced and creative thereby offering significant findings for family, school, and community partnerships.”

Putting Research into Practice

Griffin said her dissertation taught her the importance of networking and capacity building. “As school counselors, we might think we are just operating by ourselves and not realize that we can reach out to the next counselor or ask for support from partners around us.” 

She teaches in Fresno State’s Counselor Education and Rehabilitation department and uses findings from her dissertation in the classroom.

“Professor Griffin taught me to reach out, not only to the student but to work with community members, parents, grandparents, teachers or whoever may be in the student’s life, and give them a voice,” said Phongsavath.

He graduated in fall 2019 with a Master’s degree in School Counseling and a Pupil Personnel Services credential. Now he is an intervention counselor at Redwood High School in Visalia and counsels 25 to 40 students a week. On a daily basis, he endeavors to help students make positive changes, whether with grades, behavior in the classroom or dealing with issues at home. 

When Griffin works with her students, she emphasizes that it’s the connections that are most important. 

“You can know the theory, but once it meets practice it looks very different,” said Griffin. “I want students to know that they can use data to advocate and to make sure they really listen to the clients and to the families as well. I want students to leave the school counseling program feeling like they can be agents of change in their communities.”

Meet Sanger Unified’s deputy principal – Samuel Polanco

Fresno State prepares 60% of school administrators across the region.

The Kremen School of Education and Human Development places considerable emphasis on an educator who can function effectively as a leader in a culturally and linguistically diverse society and make a positive difference in the Central Valley.

Our commitment to preparing educational leaders has lead to Fresno State contributing sixty percent of school administrators across the region. Our alumni are leading the valley’s schools as superintendents and principals working to shape the future of our youth.

Samuel Polanco is a an exceptional example of an alumnus dedicated to making a difference.

How are you connected to Central Valley?

I was born at the old Sanger Hospital. Bring raised in Raisin City, California, I attended and graduated from Caruthers High School. I have always been ingrained in rural areas of the Central Valley.

How did your career path lead you to become a deputy principal?

I started by pursuing higher education at Fresno State. I earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential. I then worked as a third- and fourth-grade teacher.

I decided to go back to Fresno State and earn a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration with a preliminary administrative services credential.

After that, I took on new roles. I worked as a curriculum coach, assistant principal, elementary principal and now I am the deputy principal at the Sanger High School West Campus.

Why did Sanger open a new high school?

Sanger Unified’s boundaries encompass about 180 square miles. This not only includes the city of Sanger, but the communities of Centerville, Del Rey, Fairmont, Lone Star, Tivy Valley and portions of the Sunnyside area of metropolitan Fresno. Attendance in the district has continued to grow every year and the district serves about 12,000 students. With a current enrollment of over 3,300, additional space was needed to safely hold high school students.

How did the Preliminary Administrative Services credential and master’s degree in education prepare you for this role?

I enjoyed my time in the graduate program. The team of professors provided great insight on how to view, coach and build curriculum and instruction, culture and student behaviors. I was able to build lasting relationships with my cohort members.


If you are interested in learning more about furthering your education to become a school administrator, click here.

Lizbeth Cortez Villa named undergraduate dean’s medalist

Lizbeth Cortez Villa is a first-generation college student and immigrant who came to the United States in hopes of achieving her parents’ dream – pursuing higher education. She instilled within herself a strong drive to excel in education. Because of this, Villa was able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies while working her way through college.

During summer and winter breaks, she would work in the fields and during the semester she found jobs that allowed her to prioritize education. Being dedicated to her education resulted in receiving multiple scholarships which helped make her educational journey possible.

Villa is the oldest sibling in her family. She grew up caring and helping those around her, not only in the home but also in the classroom. “As a young student, most of my teachers paired me off with students who were non-English speakers,” said Villa. “And I would be in charge of translating what we were learning.”

At first Villa enjoyed the opportunity to help her peers but she realized it was jeopardizing her own education. Now that Villa has graduated, she plans to enroll in Fresno State’s Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program to bring awareness into the classroom and better the education system when it comes to working with migrant students who face language barriers.

While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Villa became a Scholar in Service with the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning. She completed over 640 community service hours, most of which at the Wesley United Methodist Church. At Wesley she worked on many events with the community, doing blood pressure checks, handing out food, and bridging the gap with law enforcement. Now she has been offered a job as a Sunday School teacher at Wesley.

“Her ability to adapt, leadership skills, and self-motivation, prepare her beautifully,” said Mayra Cubos, Wesley Non-Profit Administrator. “I know she will excel in her field and go on to change many lives for the better.”

In addition to being a Scholar in Service, Villa also received the Undergraduate Dean’s Medalist award from the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. She is a distinguished graduate who strives far.

After teaching in the Central Valley, Villa plans to continue her education and earn a master of science degree in counseling and then go on to earn a doctorate in educational leadership.

“My goal is to open a nonprofit organization that will provide support for families and students in the Valley,” said Villa. “I hope to inspire the young minds of our generations and prove to them that we are capable of so much in this world.”