Improving the Teaching and Learning of English Language Learners:

The Instructional Conversational Model


Senior Research Staff

Dr. Pedro R. Portes is The Goizueta Foundation Distinguished Chair of Latino Teacher Education, Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, and the Executive Director of CLASE. A past Fulbright Scholar to Peru, Dr. Portes received the prestigious American Educational Research Association’s 2005 Research Award in Human Development and is the author of Making Kids Smarter (1998). He has published scores of research articles on human development, learning, home environment and intellectual growth. In April 2005, he authored Dismantling Educational Inequality: A Cultural-Historical Approach to Closing the Achievement Gap. Dr. Portes’ interests center on linking primary prevention practices to human development within a cultural-context perspective, improving teacher and counselor education, and educational policy. Dr. Portes joined the University of Louisville faculty in 1982 as an assistant professor in the department of educational and counseling psychology after serving as a counselor for adolescents and their families at several treatment facilities in Florida. He was made professor in 1995 and had been acting chairman of his department from 2003 until he came to UGA in July of 2006. A native of Havana, Cuba, Dr. Portes received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from Florida State University. He received his master’s in counseling psychology from Nova University and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Iowa. Dr. Portes is the Principal Investigator of this project.

Dr. Paula Mellom is an Assistant Research Scientist and the Associate Director of Outreach for the Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education (CLASE) in UGA’s College of Education. She has over 20 years’ experience teaching English to speakers of other languages in the U.S. and abroad. Paula earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Occidental college and started teaching in the LA Unified School District in a classroom with children from 15 different countries of origin, who spoke 8 different home languages. Paula is fluent in Spanish and spent 10 years in Central America as a professional translator as well as a classroom teacher at a bilingual elementary school and the co-director of the graduate English program at the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE). After years in the classroom and prompted by her fascination at watching her students’ use of language and bilingual development (as well as that of her daughter who was born in Costa Rica), she returned to graduate school and earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics specializing in Second Language Acquisition. She teaches a range of courses that explore how we learn and use language such as: English Rhetoric for Speakers of Other Languages, 1st and 2nd Language Acquisition, Field Linguistics and Language and Culture. She was the outreach coordinator for the TELL (Teacher of English Language Learners) grant program which was designed to support bilingual pre-service teachers in their certification process. She also leads a Language and Culture Service Learning summer study abroad course to Costa Rica for pre- and in-service teachers designed to immerse the students in an academically challenging, linguistic and cultural experience that will help them develop the tools necessary to better understand and teach their increasingly diverse students. Her research centers on code-switching and the intersection of language, identity and culture.

Marcy Nejat is the grant coordinator and will provide logistical support for all phases of this research project.  She has an extensive business and financial background and has previously served as budget manager for the School of Teacher Education at the University of Georgia.  There she had budgetary and logistical responsibilities for the six academic departments and all research projects connected with the School.  In addition to her budget expertise, Ms. Nejat has taught English as a Second Language to adults and school children for the past ten years.

Graduate Assistants

Kara GarciaKara Garcia is currently a graduate student in the Department of Public Administration and Policy. Kara has studied and anaylzed U.S. education policy as a student in the Master of Public Policy and Administration program at UGA. Her relevant experiences include developing a mentoring program for Latina youth in Bloomington, IL and being a Brownie Girl Scout Leader in Duluth. Kara lives with her husband, daughter, and two cats in


Cecilia RivasCecilia Rivas has been working with CLASE’s tutoring and after school program in 2012-2013. Ceci, whose first language is Spanish, spent several months in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico while working on her undergraduate degree. She graduated magna cum laude from Florida International University and is an invited member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. At FIU and through enFamilia, Inc., Ceci facilitated two teen oriented programs, Life Skills, and the Immigrant Children Affirmative Network (ICAN). Ceci is currently earning her M.Ed. in Professional Counseling.

Educational Consultants

Jean Anne Marra is a veteran educator who has worked as a classroom teacher, an elementary principal, and a professional developer. She is currently working as an instructional coach for the Institute for Student Achievement via NCREST at Columbia University’s Teachers College. As an instructional coach, she provides inquiry-based instructional support and professional development for teachers who are teaching in newly transformed small high schools. Prior to this she developed a support program for first and second year teachers, has served as a leadership coach for beginning principals, and assisted with the design of the professional learning program for incumbent school leaders as well as those aspiring to become school leaders.

Jackie Carson most recently served as an elementary school principal and has a total of twenty years of leadership experience in public education. Prior to the principalship she worked as a school system curriculum specialist, assistant principal and classroom teacher. Mrs. Carson received her undergraduate degree as well as a Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of Georgia. She also completed the Educational Specialist degree in Leadership from the same institution. Mrs. Carson’s professional experience is diverse, but has always focused on student learning and student achievement.