My experiences at the annual ACTFL convention are always a little different from a “typical” ACTFL attendee. Given my district role as a program supervisor, I am fortunate to start ACTFL Week on Tuesday, when the National Association of District Supervisors for Foreign Language (NADSFL) convenes for its annual meeting. By the time ACTFL convention rolls around, my brain is full and I have to recharge quickly so I can focus on interesting and timely presentations. This year was no different.
As part of the pre-ACTFL time, NADSFL members are able to participate in the Assembly of Delegates (AoD), a one-day meeting sponsored by ACTFL where delegates from state and partner organizations meet together to hear about and discuss issues facing world language programs. This year because ACTFL was in Washington DC, Howie Berman and staff organized a Capitol Hill Day for the AoD delegates. For me, this turned out to be one of the highlights, not only of this convention, but of any convention I have attended.
ACTFL did a great job of soliciting information from delegates ahead of time so that meetings could be pre-arranged. As we checked in early on Thursday morning, we received a schedule that reflected our visits for the day. After a quick orientation on Capitol Hill where we were given talking points and suggestions on how to approach the visit, we set off with our state delegations.
For me, I visited my two state senators followed by my representative. I freely admit that the first visit was a little overwhelming and intimidating. This was something that was very much out of my realm of experience. Fortunately, one of my fellow Texans had participated in visits before so our entire group deferred to her experience. By the second visit, we were all feeling a little more confident and chimed in with comments.
In none of the visits did we actually meet with elected officials, we only met with staffers but that’s not unusual. Most visits happen with staffers; they are the ones who take issues and concerns back to the senators and representatives.
My third visit was all on my own since I was the lone representative from San Antonio but by the time I arrived, I was ready, although still a little nervous! On my walk to the Longworth House Office Building, I went back over our talking points and requests. Part of it was easy, we were discussing the importance of world language instruction and asking for support. As educators, we all know why world languages are important for the economy, for national security, for being an educated 21st-century global citizen. Specifically, we were asking for support of the Title VI International Education Programs in the Higher Education Act; support for the house-passed funding amounts for Title VI and Fulbright Hays Foreign Language Instruction Programs; and, support of America’s Language Caucus, a bi-cameral and bi-partisan initiative to ensure adequate resources are pushed to world language learning (ACTFL Assembly of Advocates Congressional Meeting Talking Points, 2019).
At the end of the day, I was tired, but I felt fulfilled. I had advocated for something I passionately believe in and I had directly participated in the democratic process. Will it make a difference? Time will tell. But after the AoD experience, I have a much clearer idea of what advocacy entails, as well as what it requires. I am ready to participate whenever I can in organized advocacy days at both the local, state, and national levels. And, maybe, I’m ready to take on some advocacy all on my own.
Debbie Callihan-Dingle, Ed.D, President, National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL), LTI AAPPL Educator Panel member
Dr. Debbie Callihan-Dingle is currently Director for World Languages and Federal Programs in North East ISD in San Antonio. During her tenure years as director, she has revamped professional development, transitioned teachers to a proficiency-based classroom approach, and led the program through a curriculum and assessment revision. Prior to assuming this role, she was a French teacher for 16 years at MacArthur H. S. in the same district. As a teacher, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities scholarship to study in Paris as well as a French Embassy short-stay grant to participate in a summer program in Paris. Debbie has also served as president and treasurer of the Junior League of San Antonio, treasurer of her local Delta Kappa Gamma chapter, and as president of the Texas Association of Language Supervisors.