2007.02.21: February 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Korea: Awards: TEFL: Watertown TAB & Press: Korea RPCV Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Korea: Peace Corps Korea : Peace Corps Korea: Newest Stories: 2007.02.21: February 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Korea: Awards: TEFL: Watertown TAB & Press: Korea RPCV Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe

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Korea RPCV Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe

Korea RPCV Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe

This year, Leeder has been chosen as the “Secondary English Language Learners Teacher of the Year,” an honor bestowed by the Massachusetts Association of Bilingual Education and the Massachusetts Association for Teachers of Speakers of other Languages. Nominated by ELL Coordinator Rob Stergis, Leeder said she is humbled by the recognition, but happier to put her students under a positive spotlight. “It becomes a passion for life,” she said. “It’s this dream of immigrants [successfully] moving through America.”

Korea RPCV Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe

'Leeder' of the pack

By Jillian Fennimore, Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 - Updated: 03:26 PM EST

Caption: Brina Leeder, an ELL teacher at Watertown High School for the past 36 years, runs through a U.S. history lesson with her class on Friday morning, February 16, 2007. Leeder recently received the Secondary ELL Teacher of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Association for Teachers of Speakers of other Languages. Photo: Maggie Mastricola

Bryna Leeder’s students span the globe. Their heritages hail from many parts of the world and cultivate inside her high school classroom.

Behind every student photo on the wall, there is a story that makes her smile.

“These are my kids,” she said, recollecting their personal journeys and she visually travels a row of their faces.

As an English as a Second Language teacher at Watertown High School, now called English Language Learners, Leeder can honestly say that for the past 36 years, she has looked forward to her job every day.
Her dedication to the job has not gone unnoticed.

This year, Leeder has been chosen as the “Secondary English Language Learners Teacher of the Year,” an honor bestowed by the Massachusetts Association of Bilingual Education and the Massachusetts Association for Teachers of Speakers of other Languages.

Nominated by ELL Coordinator Rob Stergis, Leeder said she is humbled by the recognition, but happier to put her students under a positive spotlight.

“It becomes a passion for life,” she said. “It’s this dream of immigrants [successfully] moving through America.”

Up to the third floor and down the hall of the high school is Leeder’s “clubhouse” where that dream is kept alive.

It’s a space where both new and experienced foreign students can find common ground and make friends going through the same English-learning process.

It’s a space that Leeder has called “a little piece of the world.”

Moldovan, Pakistani, Chinese, Indian, Central and South American, Lebanese, Iranian and Armenian — the students that end up in the classroom bring a wide range of cultural and language barriers to the table.

When Leeder first took on the job in 1971, she also worked with foreign students at the middle school, and saw a high concentration of Italians and Greeks from the West End of town, and an influx of Armenians who escaped from the war in Lebanon.

“Every time there was a war, we have seen it here in Watertown,” she said. “It definitely reflects what’s going on in the world.”

Leeder’s lessons have gone beyond the textbook and homework assignments. She helps her students with college applications, goes with them to visit schools, prepares them for MCAS, and even assists them in personal or medical needs such as eye care or hearing aids.

For Leeder, it’s hard not to get more socially involved than her charge requires.

And compassion in the classroom runs in the family for Leeder as well. Her 83-year-old mother has volunteered her time to teach the “newcomers” in a classroom next door for 20 years now.

“Since we are the first people these kids come in contact with when they come to a community, we need to support them in many ways,” Leeder said.

ELL students in high school stay with the program for three years tops, until they are fluent in English and ready to graduate with their senior class.

Adapting to the “American way of learning” and writing is a hurdle to cross, said Leeder. Students start from the basics of how the English language is constructed from pronunciation to grammar. Leeder spends her days teaching entry-level science, beginner’s history and reading.

“It can range from ‘this is a pen and it is red’ to MLA formatting for a senior thesis,” she said.

But it’s their success stories and life lessons in the real world that makes the job all worthwhile, said Leeder.

Two of her students have gone on to become doctors, a former Czechoslovakian student who survived internment camp in Germany is now a Harvard graduate, and many have gone on to be students at MIT, Boston University and Boston College.

Their successes have been emotional as well, said Leeder.

She remembers a former female Thai student who moved to Watertown to stay with her aunt and uncle until her parents could make the move to the states. Once in the country, the girl’s father hit a $1 million lottery and bought a restaurant. Since her parents were not fluent in English, Leeder said her student learned to “grow up fast” and dealt with real estate agents and lawyers like the best of them.

“She was the only one in the family who spoke English,” Leeder said. “It’s just real guts.”

Many of her students have learned to handle tough family situations, battle the fear in entering a new environment and culture, and learn new leadership skills within their own home lives.

Leeder splits time between a home in Somerville, which she keeps to be close to her students, and she and her husband’s home in Randolph.

They met years ago when she was in her 20s and a fresh Barnard graduate with a major in linguistics.

Once they were married, both Leeder and her husband joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Korea as an alternative to being drafted in the Vietnam War.

When she was 21, Leeder was a professor at Seoul National University, where she taught students English for two years until 1970.

Leeder soon after found her calling Watertown and hasn’t left since.

It’s safe to say that Leeder has what it takes to be a true teacher of the year and a role model for many students in Watertown.

“It’s about patience, respect and curiosity to know their stories, what makes them tick.”

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Headlines: February, 2007; Peace Corps Korea; Directory of Korea RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Korea RPCVs; Awards; Teaching English

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Story Source: Watertown TAB & Press

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