Hernandez Fellow Finds Community, Practical Ways to Help Teachers, Students, and Families
Looking back, it almost seems like Liz Richotte was destined to be a Catholic school educator. Liz, the middle of five children, drafted her two younger sisters to be her first pupils in a classroom she had set up in the basement.
“I can remember going to the book fairs and searching for the teacher editions so I could take them home and use them with my sisters,” said Liz, who attended Catholic schools for 13 years.
Her aptitude for educating others only increased as she prepared to go to college, prompting her to choose Michigan State University and their competitive teacher education program.
“Teaching was always something that just seemed to click for me,” Liz said. “I’ve always been able to take lots of information, break it down, and share it with other people.”
After graduating from MSU, Liz taught K-8 Spanish before operating her own daycare for six years. And then, just as her son was preparing to enter pre-school at Shrine Catholic Grade School in Royal Oak, Michigan, Liz agreed to join the Shrine team as their Early Childhood Center Director.
She had been kicking around the idea of going back to school when Principal Jennifer Bero—a member of the 8th cohort of ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute—nominated her for the English as a New Language (ENL) Hernandez Fellows program.
“Language has always been a love of mine,” Liz said. “I started looking into it because I really enjoy the process of learning and I saw how this could benefit our school community.”
“Liz is one of the first contacts for the families seeking to join our school community though our Early Childhood Center, so her participation as a Hernandez Fellow is vital to our mission,” said Mrs. Bero.
Although she was disappointed that the COVID-19 pandemic would necessitate an all-virtual summer session for her ENL cohort, Liz was encouraged by her classmates and the many tangible tactics she’s been able to bring back to her school.
“Allison Longton-Pawlowski’s class was incredible,” said Liz, who oversees eight classrooms at Shrine. “I was able to come back to my teachers and say, ‘Let’s do our word walls this way because the research is telling us that this is what’s best for our students, including our language learners.’
“Our other courses this fall with David Tompkins and Sarah Butch have led to productive conversations with colleagues and parents,” Liz continued. “It’s not just about the theory, I’ve also had the opportunity to put things into practice while collecting data from interactions with our students.”
“Liz has been able to take the knowledge she has gained and applied it to various areas of our recruiting process, as well,” said Mrs. Bero. “I know Liz is going to make a great impact among our Hispanic community which will help draw more families to our school.”
In addition to the professional development and additional expertise, Liz also gained a community of support for the important work she’s trying to accomplish at her school.
“The community really started with our first course this summer when we were placed into Saint groups and began building a connection, a trust, and a camaraderie with one another,” Liz said.
The community aspect really took off when the second summer course introduced breakout rooms and other opportunities to interact with the faculty and other Hernandez Fellows.
“First you’re on a Zoom call for class, and then you exchange phone numbers to set up a group text,” Liz said. “The next thing you know, memes and gifs are flying back and forth and we’re discussing assignments and lots of other things. I’ve built a lot of great friendships throughout this experience.”
As she continues through the rest of the 18-credit hours, Liz hopes that others will hear the call to join the next cohort of Hernandez Fellows.
“Trust the process and apply,” Liz said when asked what advice she would give to prospective applicants. “It’s graduate-level coursework and it’s not a walk in the park, but God has a plan and you just need to embrace it, learn, and bring it back to your school community.”
“It’s been a really positive experience for me, and I’m excited to continue sharing what I’ve learned with our teachers.”
Interested in joining a community of educators committed to helping language learners? Applications for our next cohort are now open!