“Ask Amy.” Maybe that should be written on her door because that is the advice that everyone at Bridge gives each other when help is needed. Students tell other students to ask Amy, teachers tell students to ask Amy and even teachers tell teachers to ask Amy. Why? Because Amy is, for all intents and purposes, the backbone of Bridge. Anything and everything you need help with, you can bet that Amy Weinberg will be there to help out in any way possible. Her official title is Student Coordinator here at Bridge, but a more suitable title would be Ultimate Confidante and Friend to All.
AB: Amy, tell me a little about your background and what led you to your position here at Bridge.
AW: I am originally from Baltimore, Maryland and got my undergraduate degree in geography and sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park. After college I worked a lot with kids and really enjoyed it. I worked as a teacher’s assistant and also worked in an after school programs for kids. It was then that I knew I wanted to be in education.
I applied to the JET program (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) and was accepted in 2001. I spent a year in Fukue, which is a small island off the coast of Nagasaki. During the program, I worked as an assistant to the language teacher in oral fluency for high school students. I helped the students in pronunciation and also with their fluency. I also ran some after school clubs and did other activities with the students. It was a great experience.
After the JET program, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in ESL. When I returned to the United States, I received my masters degree in ESL education. During the masters program, I worked with foreign students as a liaison between students and their partner countries and I loved being around and working with foreign people from all over the world. After I moved to Colorado, I worked with various other ESL institutes. During this time, I realized that I really wanted to get more into the management side of things. That is why working at Bridge is so great because I get a mixture of working with ESL students and also being in administration.
AB: Describe your position as student coordinator.
AW: Well, I am the person that the student first meets upon arriving at Bridge. I introduce them to the school and show them around. I talk with them a lot to find out their goals while they are here. I assess their English level and then find the correct placement for them according to their level and their needs as ESL learners. I am always available for student advising and help them when they have issues or just need someone to talk to.
AB: But isn’t it difficult to advise students and talk to them when their English level is low? How do you communicate with them?
AW: Sometimes it is a challenge but, most of the time, the students are able to communicate what their needs are and, nine times out of ten, I can figure out what they are trying to say. Many times, a beginner student will come in with a friend who is at a higher level that can help them. We really do whatever we can to explain things on their first day to help answer any questions that may come up in the future. It takes patience but I always encourage them to express their ideas and I ask many questions so I can assist them as much as possible.
AB: What are some of the things that you like most about being the student coordinator?
AW: I love working with the students and also with the teachers. Bridge is a small community of faculty and staff and, to me, it feels like a family. Everyone is there to support one another. One thing I really enjoy is staying in touch with the students after they graduate and hearing all about their lives and their successes since their time at Bridge. It makes me feel good to know that they will always remember Bridge and that I was a part of that.
AB: Do you have any funny or heartwarming stories that you would like to share?
AW: I love hearing about when students have babies. It is so exciting! One student this past summer from Brazil had been feeling ill in her private classes the last week she was here and thought maybe she had the flu. Well, it turns out she was pregnant! Everyone was so happy for her but she didn’t want to tell her husband until she got back to Brazil. She was so anxious to give her husband this wonderful news but needed to wait! All the teachers and students were so happy for her!
It is also wonderful when students have birthdays or any kind of celebration because I get to be a part of that. Students make connections and friends with each other in such a short time here at Bridge and I know that these bonds and friendships will last forever. Even though everyone is from different countries, I know that these friendships will last a lifetime.
One thing that I really enjoy is to see the progress that the students make in their English skills. So many of the students leave Bridge feeling a confidence that they didn’t have before and they can use this confidence and their new English skills for the rest of their lives. Whether they were here for six months or two weeks, all of the students who graduate feel more assured with their English. It is great. I love hearing students’ speeches at graduation and seeing the progress they have made. Many students are barely able to speak English when they first come into my office and then to hear them actually make a speech at graduation in front of all their friends is such a wonderful thing to see.