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Fulbright to support study of second-language learning in Spain

Sarah Newcomer
July 24, 2012

Meeting the needs of students who are not fluent in the official language of schooling, a significant concern in Arizona, is also a key issue in Barcelona, Spain. A doctoral candidate from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student Grant to spend the spring of 2013 in Barcelona, investigating how language education policy was created to support students who are not native speakers of Catalan is implemented.

Sarah Newcomer currently is completing her Teachers College doctorate in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on language and literacy.

“My dissertation focuses on how one school community here in Phoenix has been able to negotiate the state’s current language policies in order to continue offering a curriculum that includes a Spanish/English dual language program,” Newcomer said. “I am learning that a schoolwide culture and community that value the concept of the whole child are necessary to sustaining such programs.”

Newcomer’s Fulbright study will provide a comparison of how school communities implement and negotiate language education policies in Barcelona and Arizona. The region of Catalonia presents a unique research location and counterpart to Arizona for several reasons, she explained.

Arizona and Catalonia are similar in that each has a historically diverse population, which now includes a large number of immigrants. Within the last 30 years, Spain has experienced a large-scale wave of immigration, which has accelerated rapidly within the past 10 years.

“Here in Arizona, 10 percent of all school-aged children are English learners,” Newcomer said. “So Arizona and Catalonia both face the challenge of how best to support students who often do not speak the official language of schooling. The policies designed to address these challenges in the two locations are fundamentally different, yet produce similar results. I’m excited about the exceptional opportunity I have been afforded through the Fulbright Grant to compare language policy implementation in both locations.”

Newcomer, who grew up in the Valley and graduated from Tempe High School, describes herself as having a longtime interest in the intersections of language, culture and identity in schools. She has studied and taught abroad, is fluent in Spanish, and has studied French, Italian and Japanese. As an ASU graduate student she was introduced to the topic of language planning and policy and how such policy can affect the learning experiences of young people in school.

“I look forward to comparing my current research findings with what is happening in schools in Barcelona, where Spanish and Catalan are co-official languages, but where the primary language of schooling is in Catalan,” Newcomer said. “I hope to learn more about the experiences of Catalan learners, most of whom are from immigrant families. Dedicated and talented educators all over the world work hard to support language learners but often must do so within a multi-layered context of policy. What does this look like in the classroom and how does it affect students’ experiences?”

“We are pleased that Sarah will be continuing the important line of inquiry she initiated in her dissertation through her Fulbright award to Spain,” said Ann Dutton Ewbank, assistant division director for the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation in Teachers College. “Sarah’s important research will expand the body of knowledge about language policy and planning, which has immediate applications for all language learning programs. Her work exemplifies the preparation in socially embedded research for which Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College PhD programs prepare students.”

Newcomer has accepted a position as assistant professor of literacy education at Washington State University at Tri-Cities this fall.

“I know that such an exciting year of teaching and research would not be possible without the excellent classes within the language and literacy program here at ASU,” she said. “I very much appreciate all the faculty members who have helped me along this graduate school journey, particularly my advisor, Aya Matsuda; my committee members, Teresa McCarty and Carmen Martinez-Roldán; and my Fulbright advisor, Janet Burke. I would not be receiving the Fulbright award without their encouragement and unwavering help.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or English Teaching Assistantships. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis. Fulbrighters meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.