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Groundbreaking Pilot Program Uses Visual Arts to Promote Literacy Among Adults Learning English
Left to right: Karl Emil Willers, Ph.D., director of Nassau County Museum of Art; Patricia Lannes, director of education for Nassau County Museum of Art; Margot Edlin, Ed.D., assistant professor of basic educational skills at Queensborough; Jean Henning, senior museum educator of Nassau County Museum of Art; Amy Chase Gulden, regional director of Visual Understanding in Education for New York; Kitty Bateman, J.D., associate professor of basic educational skills at Queensborough and chapter chair of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY; Rebecca Hirschwerk, museum educator for Nassau County Museum of Art.

ROSLYN HARBOR, NY.- Over the past year, educators at Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA) and Queensborough Community College (QCC) have been developing strategies that use the visual arts to assist non-English speaking adults achieve English literacy. The result, the CALTA (Culture and Literacy through Art) Institute, was launched at a four-day workshop held at the museum from June 14-17, 2010. The American Association of Museums (AAM) says that this program positions NCMA as “a key player in helping ease the transition of new immigrants into their American communities.” The NCMA/QCC collaboration is one of only a handful of initiatives nationwide cited by AAM. According to the AAM report, CALTA “offers English language learners a means of finding a voice in a new culture and, for some, new modes of critical expression.” This program has been made possible through a grant from the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS).

Museum Director Karl Emil Willers, Ph.D. opened the CALTA Institute by informing participants that they are involved in creating a national model to teach English to adult immigrants. Explaining the critical importance of the CALTA Institute, NCMA’s director of education, Patricia Lannes, herself an immigrant who learned English as an adult, said that AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums predicts that minorities will constitute the majority of the U.S. population by 2050. She said “this project will allow us to use museums and art as catalysts for English language development and personal empowerment of the immigrant community.”

Kitty Bateman, J.D., QCC associate professor of basic educational skills and director of the college’s literacy program, noted that while visual thinking strategies are often used for children, “CALTA is the first initiative of its kind to offer adult English learners and their families new and innovative ways of approaching literacy.”

Methodologies for learning in this new program are based on VTS© (Visual Thinking Strategies). Amy Chase Gulden, regional director of VUE (Visual Understanding in Education) for New York, explained to workshop participants that VTS is a non-judgmental discussion- based experience in which there are no right or wrong answers. Participants are asked to respond to a work of art by discussing what they see and what is going on in the picture.

To learn more about CALTA, please visit

The American Association of Museums | Karl Emil Willers | Nassau County Museum of Art | Queensborough Community College |

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