Idyllwild Arts ESL chair next at Spotlight on Leadership

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IAA is more than 50 percent international enrollment

Jeni Sponseller, Idyllwild Arts Academy ESL chair, is the next speaker at the Spotlight on Leadership series. Sponseller and incoming ESL Chair Abbie Bosworth talk about their department at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17.
Photo courtesy Jeni Sponseller

Jeni Sponseller, English as a Second Language chair at Idyllwild Arts Academy, is the next speaker at the academy’s Spotlight on Leadership talk.

This series, sponsored by the Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation, is designed to familiarize townspeople with the academy’s academic and arts curricula and how they are taught to an increasingly international student body.

In an interview Sponseller spoke movingly about the courage so many of the international students have in leaving home, with little or marginal English fluency, to travel halfway around the world as a ninth or tenth grader. “They’re not only leaving their families and coming to a boarding program so far from home, many come with little or no English,” she said.

Sponseller and incoming ESL Chair Abbie Bosworth will jointly make the presentation. Their format will be to involve the audience in a way to demonstrate a “day in the life” of an international student — learning English, taking classes, and becoming accustomed to living in dorms and not with family. “In our [ESL] department, we’ve all been the foreigner, so we understand the challenges,” she shared.

Sponseller taught ESL to learners of all ages in Taipei, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States. She received her bachelor’s degree in History from Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and her master’s in history from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Sponseller, through her extensive international travel, and love of history and contemporary writing, brings an informed world view to her ESL classes.

Bosworth is British, with a background in creative writing, theater, performing and fashion design. She also brings an understanding of the role of an artist in the world to her role as incoming ESL chair.

Sponseller discussed the growing trend of more international students coming to study in the United States. “Idyllwild Arts has always been international,” she said. “We’ve had this longstanding program in place and are often being asked by other schools about the successes we’ve achieved with international students.”

In three or four years, IAA students who enter with little or no English fluency are able to integrate well into the artistic and academic life of the school. “It’s so fulfilling to see them graduate with a career ahead of them, to get to know them as individuals, and help them grow and become more self-aware and better able to express themselves as artists.”

As Bosworth moves to ESL chair, Sponseller will teach more ESL classes during the academic year and continue as director of the ESL summer intensive prior to the beginning of the academy year.

Sponseller and Bosworth will discuss their teaching methods, as well as the challenges and rewards of helping to increase the confidence and English fluency of the academy’s large international cohort.

Their talk is free and open to the public. It takes place at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, in the Fireside Room of Nelson Dining Hall on the IAA campus. Usually the Spotlight talks are on Monday. This talk is the exception.

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