When Sonia Vaz '12 graduated this past spring, she didn't have a job lined up but knew she wanted to teach in the Boston area. The Randolph, Massachusetts native earned a bachelor's degree in education, majoring in English as a second language. She speaks fluent Portuguese, so sought a job in towns with high Portuguese or Brazilian populations. Two weeks before the new school year started, Sonia got the call she'd been waiting for.

Two Alumnae Run ESL Department in Massachusetts School

Sun Dec 2, 2012

When Sonia Vaz '12 graduated this past spring, she didn't have a job lined up but knew she wanted to teach in the Boston area. The Randolph, Massachusetts native earned a bachelor's degree in education, majoring in English as a second language. She speaks fluent Portuguese, so sought a job in towns with high Portuguese or Brazilian populations. Two weeks before the new school year started, Sonia got the call she'd been waiting for.

Sonia now works as a full-time translator and pull-out ESL teacher for Rockland Public Schools, where there is a large Brazilian population. She teaches mostly kindergarten though third grade students – pulling them out of class for 30-minute sessions. She also visits the high school each day to work with the older students.

"I try to infuse my curriculum with what they are learning in class," Sonia said. "If they are having trouble with geography or science, I focus the lesson on those topics while strengthening their English skills."

About a month into the school year, Sonia was talking to the only other ESL educator in the school district, when the conversation turned to college. It was then that Sonia realized her colleague, Rachel Zalocha '99, is also an Elms College alumna. Rachel earned a Master of Arts in Teaching in ESL, and she and Sonia spoke at length about Division of Education Chair Mary Claffey Janeczek, Ed.D. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York and several years of work in human services, Rachel decided to pursue her graduate degree. She was Dr. Janeczek's graduate assistant during her time at Elms.

Rachel Zalocha at her 1999 Commencement

"We talked about what campus was like in the 90s and how it has changed since then," Sonia said. "It definitely made us closer. We share updates about the college we see in social media."

Sonia and Rachel fully staff the entire ESL department for Rockland Public Schools. Like Sonia, Rachel works will students from kindergarten through high school. A few years ago, she and Sonia's predecessor wrote a proposal for making home visits to families who were having a hard time making it to parent-teacher conferences. Their proposal was approved, and now Sonia and Rachel make home visits throughout the school year to ESL students and their families.

"Initially we just want to get to know the families and get a feel for their homework and reading routines," Rachel said. "We always leave a book with the family, and often times a learning game. We can also connect the families to the principal, other teachers, or social workers – whatever they need."

Even though they graduated 13 years apart, both agree that they will never forget their time at Elms. "It's because of Dr. Janeczek that Rachel and I ended up where we are," Sonia said.