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Education degree leads to worldly career

Her ESOL skills help immigrants maneuver through complex school placement system

When the children of refugees enroll in the DeKalb County Schools outside of Atlanta, counselor and international transcript evaluator Phoenicia Grant (’05, Elementary Education) has some understanding for the life and scholastic challenges they face.

She nearly did not finish high school as she helped to care for and support her younger siblings, a situation that mirrors the pressures she sees immigrant teens struggle with as they help their families by working rather than attending school. She was homeless as she started college, finally receiving help through public housing.

Five refugee resettlement agencies operate in DeKalb County, so Grant has evaluated academic transcripts from more than 140 countries. Her transcript evaluations determine grade-level placement and eligibility to transfer credits for classes the students have already taken. She also determines students’ English-learning needs.

Grant has melded her Florida Gulf Coast University training in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), which was required in her education degree, with a master’s in school counseling from Georgia State University, to perform her work. She uses the ESOL training to interpret data from English-proficiency tests to place students into English-skills classes. When she began teaching elementary school in Georgia, she was surprised to discover most of her colleagues lacked ESOL training.

“My ESOL endorsement put me at an advantage,” she said. “I could get a job anywhere. With our highly diverse population, I must rely on the ESOL skills from my training.” Grant has developed an innovative framework for evaluating transcripts for grade-level placement that has garnered attention beyond her school district. She presented at the international TESOL (Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages) conference, and she co-authored an article about the framework for Language Magazine. She kept receiving requests to provide training to other school districts because the consistent system helps to avoid discrimination lawsuits. In response, she founded P. L. Grant and Associates to teach the framework. “Sometimes I feel like an attorney,” she said. “The work I do goes all the way to the U.S. Department of Education.”