Teachers of New Jersey: Adriana Rivera, Kindergarten MLL Teacher at Manalapan- Englishtown Regional Schools

What used to be called ESL is now MLL. The acronym has changed and MLL stands for “Multilingual Learners.” Most of my children are learning a second language or a third language. They come from countries like Ukraine. I have some Indian students, I have some Asian students, and most of my students are Russian. I teach them all English. I pull them together and we’re doing basic communication themes following the curriculum, getting them just to acquire language to be able to communicate basic, everyday needs. The advantage of kindergarten is that it’s a level playing field for all of them.

I am passionate about this because I was an MLL learner. Both of my parents are from Colombia. I’m first generation born here, along with my brother, Danny. My parents came when they were 30 and so, I didn’t learn English until I went to school. My aunt told my parents never to put me in MLL. She thought that you would get put in a classroom with all Spanish-speaking kids, and you would never learn English. So, my parents from the beginning said no MLL, and it was sink or swim for me.

It took years for me to catch up with my other classmates because I had no support from my parents. My father was old school. So now I have a passion for the kids that I serve because I understand where they’re coming from. I understand how overwhelming it can be, and how hard it is, but I also know their potential. And so, it’s a fine line of pushing and supporting.

My biggest tutor and supporter was my brother, who was only a year older than me and who was learning the language at the same time I was. I had a good childhood: I had a really good home, but my father was just so old school. Growing up we connected with a bilingual church, and because of that, I was able to make friends within the church that knew both languages. So, they taught me a lot of the language.

On a social level, it was hard for me. I got left back in first grade because I didn’t understand words, so I had to repeat it. It was not an easy thing. And so, when I got to college, I started experimenting with different things. I thought I wanted to be a nurse. And then I started getting into education, and I realized I loved it. I was like a sponge. I loved everything about learning how children learn, and why they learn, and how they absorb information. And that’s part of the reason why I do what I do. I do love being an MLL teacher, I truly do. There’s nothing like this group of kids. They’re just such a special group and they have such a special place in my heart. I just love to see their potential and how much they flourish. I truly do.


Interview by Gregory Andrus

Portraits of the Jersey Shore


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