Lindsey Bird found her passion for working with immigrant and refugee students 13 years ago as a first-year teacher in Modesto City Schools in California. Today, she serves as both a geography teacher and the coordinator of the district’s Language Institute for English language learners—and hasn’t lost her desire to ensure that her students receive the support they need. In addition to her daytime duties as an educator, Bird has become an active voice in education policy arenas. She’s involved with Teach Plus, an organization that supports teacher leader in advance changes to better serve high-need students.
Among her priorities, Bird is seeking to change one of Modesto’s local policies. The district receives federal Title III funds, which are flexible in their use and may be spent to help educate English language learners through age 21. However, the district requires that Language Institute students enroll according to age; they are only granted a fifth year of high school if they can graduate in that time.
Graduating on time would be next to impossible for some of Bird’s students. Take Fatima, for instance, a young woman who arrived at the Language Institute at age 17 after spending most of her life in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where girls were not allowed to attend school. She was deemed a senior, even though she was illiterate in her primary language.
Together with a local community advocacy group she founded, Bird is calling for a change to the policy so students like Fatima aren’t pushed out of schools without the necessary skills to be independent. “We need to keep them until age 21 so they can get a foundational education and then plug into education opportunities in the community,” Bird said. “If they’re denied that extra time, we’re trying to cram 18 years of school experiences into a few months.”
Bird is one of five teacher advocates we profile in the Summer 2017 issue of Educational Leadership in an article titled “When Classroom Practice Meets Education Policy.” These are educators who’ve taken it on themselves to create change—and they are making an impact. Read the article and tell us about educators you know who are influencing policy decisions.
Kim Greene is senior associate editor of Educational Leadership. Follow the magazine on Twitter @ELmagazine.