Story by Chris Felker • Photos by Abner Pedraza
In her 22-year educational career, Ana Groover has spent 18 years at New Horizons Elementary School in Wellington. Through that time, she has picked up additional administration duties. However, after missing her time working directly with children, she began this year determined to spend more time with students.
Groover is the International Spanish Academy coordinator at New Horizons. A native of Cuba, she arrived as a 6-year-old in Florida when her parents immigrated to the United States. She was raised in Belle Glade, which is also where she first taught in the 1990s, at Gove Elementary School as a dual-language English teacher who volunteered in the evenings to help adult learners.
Groover earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from Nova Southeastern University.
When she started at New Horizons, Groover initially was an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) specialist, teaching science to older elementary school students. She was then given other hats to wear, including ESOL grade chair, testing/placement of English Language Learners (ELLs) and test scheduler.
“Last year, I actually had two administrative jobs and worked very little with children. I’m actually the ESOL coordinator, and that job I’ve had a long time,” Groover said. “Since we became a dual-language magnet school, I am now also the International Spanish Academy magnet coordinator.”
But she kept teaching kids despite the extra work, after gravitating almost completely out of the classroom.
“What I’d done in the past several years was pull groups of children to work with as a tutor almost, for 45 minutes a day — third, fourth and fifth grade. Last year, I wasn’t able to do that,” she said. “There just wasn’t time.”
The other major responsibilities Groover bears keep her a busy professional, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The labels on those hats have her swimming in acronyms, too many to define, and some that have gone away. She coordinates all ELL testing, plus the state’s Access 2.0 test, and is APRENDA test administrator as well. In addition, she is New Horizons’ administrative liaison for the Educational Data Warehouse (EDW), which holds all student records.
“English Language Learners are the children who, when they get to us from other countries, they’re tested, and then according to the tests they’re placed in a room,” Groover explained. “There’s a plan drawn up so their instruction matches with their growth goals, and then they are reevaluated. I reevaluate them at certain times. There are actually guidelines from the government that we have to follow about how often and when they have to be reevaluated.
The goal is to get them completely proficient in English. The way they determine that, Groover said, is through the battery of tests that she largely administers for the school.
“APRENDA is a test that we give only to the dual-language children, anyone who’s in the Spanish academy, so I also manage that test and everything else to do with it. That one is like an FCAT but is all in Spanish,” she said. “It is given to them to see how far they are above or below grade level or whether they’re on grade level in Spanish… It is a cumulative exam, so we kind of see what they’ve learned between kindergarten and second grade, and then we get a baseline, so when they take it in fifth grade, we see how much growth there was.”
All that testing determines whether a certain moment has occurred for each student that Groover basically lives to make happen.
“I just love to see when the light goes on in a kid’s eyes because you have all of a sudden opened up an avenue of interest for them and motivated them to learn. That often comes through language, also through visual,” she said.
It’s what has kept her going back into the classroom for more than just supervising teachers; it’s why she enjoys her work.
“I do a lot of virtual science field trips, where we do things like, I take them to the national parks via the computer,” Groover explained. “When they are studying erosion and they see something like Bryce National Park, or Zion, or the Grand Canyon, they’re just blown away. That then leads them to leave my room, and find a book or a computer and continue to learn more about that area. So that, I think, is what’s huge — that you start that ball rolling, and then it gets momentum, and then… boom: kids want to learn.”
Under her leadership, the International Spanish Academy has grown to encompass three-quarters of New Horizons’ student population.
“We work in partnership with the Consul of Spain in Miami. We teach half of the day in English and half of the day in Spanish. The kids get an hour and a half of reading in English, and then they switch and go to their Spanish teachers, [many of whom] are provided through the Spanish consulate. They’re actually teachers from Spain who are with us on a three-year visa.”
The students get many of their lessons in Spanish.
“When they leave us in fifth grade, they do get a graduating certificate from the ISA signed by the Consulate of Spain’s educational attaché in Tallahassee, and it gives them the right to study abroad,” Groover said.
The ultimate goal then is met.
“These kids are bilingual when they graduate,” Groover said, adding that New Horizons ISA grads are going on to bigger things, given that great dual-language advantage. “Remember, the ISA has only been in place for 10 years. So the kids who started out with us are just now reaching the high school level or getting ready to graduate. We’ve had several kids at Suncoast and several at Wellington High School who are in honors programs. I think there are going to be great things that come out of here.”