A Chat with Milken Family Award Recipient- Dual Language Teacher of the Month Chris Bessonette!

Photo for Article: A Chat with Milken Family Award Recipient- Dual Language Teacher of the Month Chris Bessonette!

Photo Credit: The Milken Family Foundation

One dual language teacher was in for a big surprise during a surprise assembly at the Munger Mountain Elementary School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As the kids milled about in anticipation, Chris Bessonette was awarded The Milken Educator Award, a highly prestigious award that honors phenomenal teachers, including a cash prize of $25,000. We featured Mr. Bessonette back in June of 2017, for his amazing teaching ability, dedication to dual language education, and the skills he brought to the classroom from his IB training.

Chris should be recognized for his incredible commitment to strengthening bilingualism and multicultural appreciation not only in his school, but in our district and our community. In his classroom, Chris is tireless in his quest to support his students’ biliteracy and bilingual development. He works to provide culturally relevant, sheltered instruction for all students, but especially for his English Language Learners. All students feel honored and valued in his classroom. A trained International baccalaureate teacher, Chris brings the strategies he learned from his IB school into his classroom and our school. – Heather Goodrich, Dual Language Instructional Coach

Chris’s desired career path has always been in education, although his journey has taken some twists and turns. Immediately after college graduation, he moved to Austria where he was a residence counselor at an international boarding school. While he explored Europe, he missed the wilderness of the American west, so he returned to Oregon and worked as an environmental educator and substitute teacher. Wanting a more full-time job outside, he moved to Yosemite National Park where he taught student groups natural history, ecology and how to appreciate our national wonders.

During these summers, he also led backpacking and rock-climbing trips with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). After getting married, he was ready for a classroom and ventured to Germany where he taught first grade at Dresden International School. He returned to the US when he began his teaching career at Munger Mountain Elementary in Jackson, Wyoming.

Now as a dual immersion teacher I have an inspiring and diverse classroom in a beautiful natural setting. Initially, I was drawn to dual immersion education because I enjoy team teaching. As I grew to understand the equity issues for Spanish speaking language learners, I grew to see the power that dual programs embody for social change. This is the most inspiring element of dual language education for me today. – Chris Bessonette

Although Chris had already achieved so much in his career, the milestone of the Milken Award is a lifetime achievement goal many teachers aspire to in their careers. The Milken Educator Award is awarded to the most inspiring, outstanding, and influential teachers by the Milken Family Foundation. For 30 years, they have been honoring teachers around the country with a $25,000$ award for their excellence, and how they may continue to succeed in the future.

Chris received this award in a surprise assembly, in front of his wonderful second grade class. Receiving this award is an emotional experience for many teachers, as it works to honor the hard work of teachers around the country that often goes unnoticed.

Receiving this award was the biggest surprise of my life! It’s like winning the lottery, only you never knew you were entered! I am humbled, honored and excited to share my experiences as a dual language educator if they arise as a result of this recognition. – Chris Bessonette

Continue reading to learn more about Milken Award recipient Chris Bessonette…

When asked what his favorite part of teaching is, Chris readily responded,

Kids! They are hilarious, challenging, mind boggling and inspiring. No day is ever the same and it is a privilege to be a teacher, mentor, counselor, shoe-tier and friend to the future leaders of our communities.

Photo for Article: A Chat with Milken Family Award Recipient- Dual Language Teacher of the Month Chris Bessonette!

Chris believes that the educational system in the United States has a significant and persistent achievement gap between minority and disadvantaged students compared to their white peers. Yet, he is adamant that there is hope.

Research by Thomas and Collier has shown that dual language immersion or two-way immersion education, when well implemented, can fully close this achievement gap. With this research in mind I hope to see dual immersion schools and classrooms become the norm for diverse classrooms. Beyond academic achievement, dual language education provides an opportunity for social change. As students grow into adults, I trust they will utilize their socio-cultural competence developed in school to create a more just and equitable future.

In addition to his outstanding classroom techniques, Chris has been working on a research project with Dr. Patrick Manyak from the University of Wyoming. With his guidance, they’ve implemented a multifaceted approach to vocabulary instruction, and it has made a huge difference for their students. They’ve elevated student’s’ world consciousness, taught over one hundred new individual words by January and have even studied morphology. They are now diving into character trait vocabulary and students are beginning to utilize more interesting words like arrogant, courageous, and loyal in their writing.

While they await the research evaluation results at the end of the year, this project has focused as much on instructional practice as test scores. To ensure students are learning they formatively assess students each week. Chris can keep close tabs on who is understanding and applying new words and who needs more time and reteaching. Along with his Spanish teaching partner, he has adapted a similar approach to math instruction by using frequent standards-based exit tickets to monitor learning and guide future instruction. This keep their instruction individualized and breaks down learning into small, focused and manageable lessons. They share formative assessment results with their students so they know the next steps and can all celebrate successes.

As mentioned, Chris was the June 2017 recipient of the Dual Language Teacher of the Month award. This award works to honor many teachers for the hard work they put into changing our society every day. Chris truly embodies what it means to be an inspirational dual language teacher and makes this clear with his attitude towards his fellow teachers. He acknowledges that all teachers work tirelessly every day, and how important receiving positive recognition is to reward these teachers for their efforts. Chris is constantly striving to find better ways to support his students and to spread the powerful opportunities that dual language education provides for kids! For this, and for all his efforts in changing our world, we thank Chris for his many contributions to dual language education and congratulate him for joining the Milken Educator Family!

Dual language education provides the BEST elements of teaching. First, I get to work with amazing and diverse kids and families. Second, I collaborate, laugh and problem solve with a spectacular Spanish teaching partner and a caring team of community educators. And most important of all, I am a part of building a more equitable education system that has the potential to close the achievement gap while taking pride in who they are. This is what fires me up when I’m tired or feeling overwhelmed and it frames everything I do. Equity in education is what make dual language teaching extremely fulfilling for me.

Angela Palmieri
Author: Angela Palmieri

Angela Palmieri is the founding teacher of a Spanish dual language immersion program in Glendale, California. She currently teaches sixth grade language immersion and has been an educator for eighteen years. She traveled to New Zealand on the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2016 to research and document the cultural practices taught in Maōri-medium schools. Angela holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from the Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA, a Master’s degree in Reading and Language Education, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Learning Education from CSULA. Ms. Palmieri is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Ms. Palmieri was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, to Italian immigrant parents, and speaks Spanish and Italian fluently. She is a social justice-driven advocate for bilingual and indigenous language education and is an avid traveler. Angela travelled to China and Mongolia on a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant in June and July of 2018.

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