To Protect and Serve

joe“To Protect and Serve” was written by guest blogger, Joe Hudson.  Joe is the Latino Liaison Officer with the Annapolis Police Department in Annapolis, Maryland.  This blog series highlights the partnership between the police department and school system to meet the social/emotional needs of our youth. 

Police departments across the United States have used the same motto for generations. The motto “to Protect and Serve” is a relatively simple phrase. The definition of “to Protect” for the most part has not changed. Officers investigate crimes and arrest perpetrators in an effort to prevent them from reoffending. The definition of “to Serve” changes on a regular basis, usually dependent on the latest, greatest idea. “To Serve” is defined by different ways of engaging the community in an effort to build community ties. These efforts are primarily done by going to community meetings, visiting schools, homework clubs, summer camps, etc. Traditionally, if your agency was active in the community, your agency was successful. Today the phrase “to Serve” should reflect a rapidly growing portion of our society. “To Serve” should move in a new and radical direction, changing from one that is currently based on being visible to one of engagement, understanding, and expression.

“To Protect and Serve” took on new meaning last year in Annapolis. In a partnership between the Annapolis Police Department and public school system, we instituted a program developed by The National Compadres Network. Before getting into the details of the program, some background is needed.

A concern since 2014 has been that our communities are being inundated with unaccompanied minors fleeing their homes in Mexico and Central America. (For more background on the reasons behind this surge, visit this site.)  Once the unaccompanied minors arrive to their new home, they often experience a let-down. Many of our children have a vision of what the reunification with their parents will be like. It is no different than what we would want for ourselves – warm hugs, big smiles, a cake, and possibly our own bed. Sadly, in many cases the homecoming is anything but the vision. Many times our children encounter a new stepmother or stepfather, and brothers and sisters they did not know they had. They are told that they can only eat out of one kitchen cabinet because the other renters in the house use the other cabinets. They are told they can sleep on the sofa, not being invited into the room the family rents. Then mother or father leaves to go to work. The crucial reunification never takes place. The children are enrolled in school. They attend school not knowing the language, encounter teachers that don’t always greet them, look around the room at the pictures of famous people hanging on the walls, and realize they do not belong in school. They do not feel welcome, the pictures on the walls do not look like them, and they wonders if they can be successful.

We know that every child wants to be loved. We have been told for years that the number one reason a child joins a gang is to belong and be loved. There are many reports detailing how MS13 and other Latino gangs have grown in recent years. I draw a direct connection between the lack of love the children feel in their homes and schools with the sudden rise in gang numbers. Unless you have talked to and work with our children, you cannot begin to imagine the horrors they have lived, the amount of trauma they carry, and the lack of ability to be able to express their feelings and rid themselves of some of the trauma. It is hard to imagine the violence, abuse, addictions and broken homes they have experienced or witnessed in their young lives. Most of us will never experience .01% of what they have experienced.

This does not discount the trauma experienced in many of our communities. They too experience the same traumas as the unaccompanied minors. They too do not know how to express and relieve the stress. The trauma that many of our youth carry will eventually emotionally and socially paralyze them.

As I mentioned earlier, “to Protect and Serve” took on new meaning last year in a partnership between the Annapolis Police Department and the school system. For years, the school system’s bilingual facilitators and I struggled with how to help our children. We each developed a sense of responsibility to help the community. We have all had restless nights worrying about that one child or that one family. We all worked tirelessly to attempt to find a solution. We developed and implemented programs both individually and in groups. Each program made a positive difference, however we truly struggled to connect with our youth. We understood the unique trauma and pain that each of our children have in making the journey from their homeland to Maryland and the horrifying events that set the journey in motion. We held classes for mentoring groups and citizens in hopes that they would see our new arrivals for who they are individually, and not with a preconceived notion that at times would cause our children to wish they were of another ethnic background.

In searching for solutions, Kelly Reider (school system representative & English Learner Portal founder) found Luis Cardona and the National Compadres Network. Grant funding brought them to us. We completed our training and before we left the classroom at the end of the third day, the bilingual facilitators and I decided when we would start our first teaching circles. The teaching circles met once a week for 12 weeks.  We had enough people to run two circles in one middle school and one circle at a second middle school. We decided to pick 10 – 12 young men that seemed to always be in detention or suspended from school. We selected our children and invited them and their parents to an orientation. We were confident that we would get parental support because we knew each of these parents and knew that they too were having problems with their sons. What we did not expect was the level of excitement that each parent brought. Not only did we get a resounding yes from each parent, but for some it was the first time I had seen them smile when talking about their sons.

We were excited and thought we were ready. We knew that the majority of our children were apprehensive about attending. They each would have their own machismo and rough exterior. They did not disappoint. In the beginning they were not serious and each had a nervous smile or laugh. When we started to tell the “bridge story” (a generic story that describes how traumas enter our lives, change everything, and we realize we were not ready for what would happen next), we suddenly had their undivided attention. Each of their eyes were locked on the teacher like lasers. We could clearly look into their eyes and see a great deal of pain. We could see that they understood and felt everything we were saying. We did our best not show the pain we were feeling. What helped us the most at that moment was the additional excitement knowing that we had our starting place and we were going to move up from there.

groupJNThis new approach to the term “to Serve” paid off. Parents told us they saw improvement in their children’s behaviors and teachers began to acknowledge our children for who they were and not for who they thought they were. Across the board, grades improved and five of our children made honor roll for the first time. Bonds between family, community, school and police were strengthened.

Last year’s success has inspired us to bring El Joven Noble and Xinachtli to more communities. We continue our school based programs and have added programs outside schools, including two programs in the African American communities.

The gang problem is not a problem that we will arrest ourselves out of. We have tried that for many years and have not made measurable progress. These programs will not eliminate gangs either, however, they will strengthen communities. They will allow a child to be himself, they will provide a child an honorable path and not one of gang life, and they will create a lasting bond between police and community. It is time to redefine what “to Serve” stands for.

Coming up next….more details about El Joven Noble, Xinachtli, and a closer look into the summer programs taking place to heal our communities

Service Learning for Language Development

You’ve heard about Project Based Learning (PBL) for language development at English Learner Portal.  One of our favorite features about this approach is the opportunity it affords for students to give back to their community through service learning and for our schools to build community partnerships, especially ones that highlight the positive contributions our immigrant students can make.

Today’s blog highlights a few examples of recent student projects in hopes of inspiring you to provide your own students with similar opportunities to develop their language and give back to the community. We hope you enjoy them as much as our teachers and students did!

First grade students created quilt squares showing how they bring the idea of kindness to life. They collaborated with the Annapolis Quilt Guild to assemble the quilt. After displaying them in the school lobby, the quilts were donated to the Lighthouse Shelter so that kindness can continue to spread in our community.


High school students researched and created a Health Fair for students at a nearby elementary school. Elementary students visited stations where they heard about nutrition, germs, exercise, and more.   They were excited to see each other again at our Project Celebration!



Kindergarten students created a three-dimensional map of their community. Each class was responsible for a different group of map features (natural resources, transportation, goods, services, etc..). Students from each class presented their contribution standing on the stage in front of all the kindergarten classes and teachers! The next day, an Annapolis police officer stopped by to see how they built the police station and visited each class.



High school students elected to give back to the world community by supporting Lantern Projects, an organization established in 2003 to raise funds for small projects around the world. The projects request small amounts of funding for specific items which enables adults and children to see that they can really make a difference in someone’s life. Our students researched the poverty level of various countries and chose Malawi for their fundraising efforts. Using concepts from our Geometry unit, students created lit tissue paper lanterns of various designs. Students presented their lanterns and their learning to visitors, and then auctioned their lanterns, donating the proceeds to

Project based learning is not only developing language and content knowledge for students, it is inspiring teachers to be excited about teaching again and showing our students make a difference!

Coming soon:  Teacher reflections on a PBL based curriculum for language development

Curriculum Rewind

Curriculum Rewind – Why PBL??  The development of a project-based learning approach to English Language Development Curriculum K-12

In the last blog, I shared our Project Celebration Day and the amazing work of our students and teachers. Today we rewind to share how we got there……

When the state of Maryland became part of the World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) Consortium and a Common Core state, our English Language Acquisition (ELA) Office initiated the development of an innovative Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach to our English language development (ELD) curricula.   At the time, the elementary ELD curriculum was aligned to a reading series that was being phased out of the mainstream classroom curriculum, while the secondary ELD curriculum was aligned to the middle and high school language arts curricula. With the new standards, it was clear we needed a new, creative approach to supporting our K-12 English learners.

Key Steps in our Process:

Past successes in language development with hands-on, high interest lessons that were connected to real life led the staff to consider a Project-Based Learning approach. One of our earliest project ideas gave elementary school English learners the opportunity to design and carry out a plan to support troops returning from Afghanistan.  Among their efforts was collecting Halloween candy, weighing and calculating daily totals to share with other schools via Face Time and making goody bags to donate to Operation Welcome Home, an organization at Baltimore Washington Airport that greets returning troops. Local dentists donated $1 per pound of candy to the owh2
Wounded Warrior Project. Secondary students researched the social cost and science of PTSD and other war-related injuries and interviewed veterans via Face Time about the impact on their future activities. As a culminating activity, students traveled to BWI airport with Welcome Home signs, cheered and recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the returning vets.  View our project video here!

As our next step, the English Language Acquisition Office team and a few teacher representatives attended a summer conference at High Tech High, a secondary school designed around a project based, collaborative approach to learning. The match between the school’s vision and ours was immediately apparent. Our challenge then was how to connect English language development in order to make it meaningful for both content AND language learning.

Our trip to High Tech High was followed with further research on integrating the key components of PBL into language and content integrated units. We met with each content area coordinator K-12 to tease out the most important, high impact standards to use as a focus.  This list became a guide for brainstorming unit ideas that would incorporate content standards with Social/Instructional Language, the Language of Language Arts, the Language of Science, the Language of Social Studies, and the Language of Mathematics.

IMG_3114The professional development process of introducing our teachers to the concept of PBL began the semester before implementation. We presented the research behind PBL, shared examples, and gave teachers the freedom to experiment with their own ideas for PBL units.

Our first English language development units designed with a project based learning approach came to life the following school year. We began with 3 integrated units for grades K-2 and grades 3-5.  In secondary, we began with our ESOL 3 course.  Each year we have added new courses for secondary students, and new units for all levels, while continuing to fine-tune existing units.  Additionally, each year we offered professional development opportunities to reinforce our teachers’ knowledge and expertise, both face-to-face and on-line, using tools from both WIDA and the Buck Institute for Education.

After three years of implementation, the result are clear. Not only have we exceeded state expectations for language growth and the percentage of students reaching English proficiency, but also our teachers’ growing creativity and our students’ verbal 20161208_145019confidence demonstrates the powerful influence that Project Based Learning has had on our school community.   Ultimately, high-interest, hands on, project based learning has been more than a vehicle for learning content and acquiring language.  Both student and teachers have had the opportunity to experience the entire gamut of higher order thinking, from researching facts to synthesizing information to creating thoughtful and meaningful finished projects that connect them to the community, an unexpected and extraordinary consequence of what began as an experiment in creating a new curriculum for English language learners.

Coming up next:   Sharing more language development successes….

Project Celebrations – Best Day of the Year!!

On May 30th, English learners (and their teachers) from across the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Maryland, came together to celebrate and share their learning.

On May 30th, English learners (and their teachers) from across the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Maryland,  came together to celebrate and share their learning.  It was a day of smiles, questions, explanations, laughter, and most of all…..confidence with academic language.  I’m excited to share our day with you!

Middle school students created avatars to present the highlights of individual parks through informational videos.

Three years ago we began our project-based learning journey using our English language development curriculum. As recommended by the essential project design elements from the Buck Institute for Education, we sought opportunities for our students to share their learning and target their presentations to an authentic, public audience.  Throughout the year, our teachers arranged for various ways to make this happen for students ,whether partnering with local businesses and organizations, the county’s volunteer network, or other schools.


I believe it is very important for those outside of our program to participate in positive experiences with our students and to learn the value they bring to the community. By year two, we knew we wanted a way for our teachers and students to share their work with one another, not only as a celebration of their successes, but also as an embedded professional development for our teachers who were still learning what project-based learning looks like in action.  This year, our project celebration was double the size of last year and the quality of work was amazing!

Signing up to present at the Project Celebration was voluntary, with both an elementary and a secondary project room. Teachers and students worked on a rotating schedule, presenting to visitors and then being the audience for others.  Students K-12 mingled, presented, questioned, and explored eat other work.  Our school system television studio cameraman filmed and interviewed students, adding a level of professionalism and excitement.


I hope you are able to feel the pride and excitement for learning that buzzed through the building that day. That’s what we love about PBL – the student ownership and excitement makes teaching our students so easy!

Students studied how to care for pets. Using language of math, students explained how they designed and constructed a dog house to match the measurements of their class pet, Coco.  Students created a fund raiser for the SPCA and also took a trip to visit and share their literacy with the residents!

COMING UP NEXT – Curriculum Rewind – Why PBL??  The development of a project-based learning approach to English Language Development Curriculum K-12