Leadership Prize: Courtney Kobos ‘19 explores the challenges facing ESL teachers

A recipient of Elon's Leadership Prize, Kobos is responding to the needs of educators in linguistically diverse schools.

By Timothy Boles ’20

This country has seen the increasing number of English-as-a second-language (ESL) students outpace the ability of the education system to accommodate these students, improve learning resources or empower their teachers.

That imbalance is what’s at the heart of new research by Courtney Kobos ‘19, a Teaching Fellow and an English major with a Teacher Licensure concentration. She is using Elon’s Leadership Prize to conduct research with teachers who are working with ESL students at William’s High School to identify gaps and struggles within the curriculum as well as develop programs to empower teachers.

Kobos, a Texas native, grew up in a diverse setting. Early in her educational career, Kobos noticed discrepancies in the educational experiences of different students, most notably among ESL students. “Present day, we are seeing an increase in immigrants and second-language speakers,” Kobos says. “However, we are not seeing an increase in resources or how to deal with this increased need.”

This imbalance inspired Kobos to explore what can be done to improve the educational experience for both teachers and ESL students.

With the help of her mentor, Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Zinchuk, Kobos is conducting interviews with teachers at Williams High School in Burlington, North Carolina. Her research is unique because unlike most studies revolving around education her research, it focuses more heavily on the teachers rather than the students. Kobos hopes these interviews will offer insight into what resources and training will be most useful to provide to teachers who work with ESL students.

The Leadership Prize has provided Kobos with $10,000 that she plans to use to help implement programs and gain further knowledge pertaining to her research. Kobos has been accepted into the World Teach program in Ecuador. She will spend the summer in Ecuador developing her Spanish and work directly with students who are learning English as a second language. Through this first-hand experience,  Kobos will be able to gain more of an understanding of these teachers encounter on a regular basis.

Along with bolstering her understanding of the teaching experience, Kobos plans to allocate funding to implement programs that directly correlate to the needs of the teachers. It is her hope to create a conference at Elon in spring 2019 that would bring together members of the Alamance community with members of the Elon community. In addition to this Kobos would like to introduce educational training for teachers. These programs will consist of articles and speakers that correlate with the needs expressed by teachers during the interview process. The programs will help to educate and empower teachers with ESL students.

Her passion is compelling because she found a way to interconnect her research with the Leadership Prize. By bridging the gap within our education system and increasing the odds that all students receive a quality education, Kobos, with the help of the Leadership Prize, seeks to understand and respond to issues not just within our community, but also around the world.