The Thomas Edison State University (TESU) Foundation has received a $1,000 mini-grant from the Smith Family Foundation of New Jersey, Inc., to support culturally responsive classrooms in the Trenton, N.J., public school district. The funding will help support educators create classroom environments that celebrate and affirm their students’ cultural identities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Smith Family Foundation is a private grant-making institution, founded in Trenton, N.J., in 2016, with a mission to empower its community, cultivate leaders and transform lives by providing funding and Transformative Leadership Development to Trenton-based organizations. Its vision is to be the standard for excellence in the nonprofit sector in Trenton and beyond, and to impact the lives of thousands of youth and families in the city by supporting Trenton-based organizations, faith-based organizations and churches.

The recent grant provided by the Smith Family Foundation has assisted The John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy’s N.J. Cultural Competency and English Language Learners (ELL) Institute and Mentoring Program transition from face-to-face services to virtual professional development and coaching models during this remote time of learning. Through the support, the ELL program is able to deliver virtual online meetings that aid Trenton school district teachers as they provide remote education to their students.

The ELL Program helps to teach theory and best practices in cultural competency; first and second language acquisition and English learning strategies; model best practices through simulations and literacy moments; and equips teachers to use culture and language as tools for developing students’ positive cultural identity and self-esteem. This funding from the Smith Family Foundation made it possible for 13 teachers of more than 300 culturally and linguistically diverse students to receive vital professional development and ongoing mentoring support to provide impactful education.

“The Smith Family Foundation grant supports the centerpiece of the ELL Program – mentoring and monitoring of teachers who work with the state’s diverse population of children – by giving them the tools to become more culturally and linguistically responsive educators, especially during these challenging times,” said Ana I. Berdecia, senior fellow and director, the Center for the Positive Development of Urban Children (CPDUC) at the Watson Institute.

The primary goal of the CPDUC is to bridge the voices of teachers, practitioners, families and advocates, with the policy initiatives that impact the positive development of New Jersey’s children. Its work encompasses a holistic approach that utilizes best practices, policy analysis and research to improve the health, well-being and educational outcomes for children and adults working with families. “We are immensely grateful to the Smith Family Foundation for its support of this endeavor that enables the ELL program to expand its 12-year evidence-based professional development model by transitioning its outreach to the local Trenton-area school children through remote learning,” said Berdecia.