A school system’s response to migration influences the financial and social success of all the individuals they serve, regardless of their immigrant background. There are some schools that need to integrate large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers quickly; some schools need to accommodate students whose native tongue is different from the language spoken in the host community; while some schools have to deal with all of those challenges at the same time.
This spring, Jennifer “Jenn” Wood became the new English Language Education Specialist/Immigrant Support on campus. It is her experience and mission to lead such challenges at UNM-Taos.
Wood has worked with adults and youth in diverse educational settings for 30 years as a teacher, instructional coach, workshop facilitator, public historian and researcher. She is a qualified teacher with a focus on English Language Acquisition and holds a Master of Education in International Education.
Much of the work she’ll be doing at UNM-Taos is similar to what she’s done before – teaching multilingual/multicultural people, program development, community collaboration, student advocacy and instructional coaching. The change for her is the place. Wood most recently lived in Germany for over 15 years where she worked with people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.
“Much of my experience in Europe was with the people from the Middle East, with a focus on women with interrupted formal education or none at all,” said Wood. “There’s a lot to learn about Taos and the Southwest, and how I can adapt my skills and experience to benefit students and the community here.”
Her experience, she added, may not directly transfer to the context of Taos, but “Indirectly there are aspects of lived experience that people from refugee and migrant backgrounds share – needs for belonging, language and professional skills to survive initially and eventually thrive, creativity and self-expression, connection and well-being.”
Wood has an approach that she hopes will easily translate: “Teaching language to more fully participate in our communities, as best we can, and learning to advocate for ourselves in a new part of the world as a new life unfolds, can help us move towards belonging, connection and well-being.”
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Wood has been visiting Taos for 20 years. She planned to come to Taos before the pandemic to “recalibrate and discover/plan what was next.”
A writing workshop 20 years ago first brought her to Taos, which led to finding a meditation/wellness and creative community and friends.
“The people I know here are a big part of wanting to experience Taos; not as a visitor,” she said.
Even so, a jump from Germany to Taos is quite a leap. But the timing was kismet.
“I’d wrapped up my projects/work for the time being and it was before the (COVID-19) vaccine. I wanted to be closed to loved ones so I came back to the Northwest in November 2020,” she said. “Lots of international people did this. It was a bit of a shuffle with the unknown.”