When Alice Collins was in Honduras and just learning to speak Spanish, she always ate chicken when she went to a restaurant by herself. Not because she loved chicken, but because “pollo” was the only food she felt comfortable ordering. She knew what she was getting.
It’s been a long road from then to now for the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) English Language Development Director of the year. Collins received the honor this spring for her efforts in helping Spanish speaking students and their families learn the English language.
“It’s a great honor,” she said, “and a reflection of our team and how hard we work. It is so rewarding and so important.”
Close to half of District 50’s students are English Language Learners, the vast majority of them speaking Spanish as their first language. Collins says many students acquire “social” English language skills by living in an English speaking environment, but a truly effective program teaches students at an “academic” level that is critical for success in the classroom. “Having a high functioning level of English is absolutely critical,” she said.
Collins was picked to head the English Language Development department when Superintendent Pam Swanson restructured the District to meet the needs of students. “It was long overdue,” Swanson said. “The high number of students we serve who have English as a second language are benefitting greatly from her leadership and her passion.”
Passion is key to Collins work.
Collins played collegiate golf in Florida and was grinding away on the Pro Women’s golf tour when she said, “there has to be more to my life.”
Through her church, she decided to move to Honduras to teach children and make a difference in the world. At the time, Collins couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. After studying it 5 days a week, 7 hours a day for 5 months, she quickly became fluent. It opened up a world of Spanish Language Education back in her home country and eventually led to her position in District 50.
“We have a high population of English Language students in a medium sized district, so I feel like I can make a huge difference here,” she said. On average, Collins says it takes about seven years for a child with no English language skills to eventually speak the language fluently.
From there, she says with pride, the sky is the limit.
“We are creating multi-language students for a global society,” adding, “We as a country are trailing the world in these skills. When you can speak English and Spanish fluently you will become a highly desirable employee.”