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Classroom Teaching and Dance Floor Research

When Sean Werkheiser was in high school in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, he considered a career in music and sound design. But by the time he chose a major at Emerson College, his focus had shifted to political science.

After spending his senior year as a community organizer for the Obama campaign, Werkheiser put his new skills to use as an AmeriCorps member in the San Francisco public schools. Though he had not prepared for a career in education, he quickly realized that was where he wanted to be.

He spent his second AmeriCorps year at a South Bronx middle school, as a bilingual literacy and math tutor and mentor to students with emotional problems. That experience won him acceptance to the highly selective New York City Teaching Fellows program, which sent him to Hunter to earn his MA while teaching fulltime in Sunset Park. The Brooklyn school, like the Bronx one, had a large population of Spanish-speaking students. And while his Spanish was serviceable, Werkheiser aimed higher.

“When I was in college, I learned Spanish by talking to my co-workers at a restaurant,” he says. “Now I want an immersive language experience.”

He’ll get that during his Fulbright year in Colombia, where he plans not only to teach business English to college students, but also to engage with the surrounding community. He has an inspired idea about just how to do that: Create a multicultural dance exchange.

“Here at home, I’m involved in Latin dancing,” he says. “I plan to work with dancers in Bogotá, exploring the differences between Colombian salsa and bachata and the same dances in New York.”

Werkheiser expects that when his Fulbright year ends, he’ll return as a more effective teacher. And with all he’s already learned at Hunter, he’s well on his way to true expertise in bilingual education. For his progress so far, he cites Hunter two courses in particular: Foundations for Bilingual Education, taught by Maite Sanchez, and Bilingual Literacy, taught by Sarah Cacicio.

“In Foundations, we learned so much of the history and politics behind bilingual ed, and at the same time received mountains of information about how to be successful in our classrooms,” he says. “Bilingual Literacy was excellent because it really focused on meeting the needs of the students I was working with. I was introduced to linguistics research on the effectiveness of certain practices – like helping our students see the connections between English and Spanish.”

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