Going the Distance

Graduate Division Commencement Speaker is Claribel Riss from the Graduate School of Education

June 07, 2016
Claribel Riss

New York, N.Y. – For several years, Claribel Riss, a resident of East Stroudsburg, PA, has traveled at least 75 miles to her job as a teacher at a Bronx middle school, and to Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE) in New York City, where she earned her second master’s degree this year in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).   

For this 36-year-old mother of two, going the extra mile for a Touro College education has paid off, her selection as commencement speaker of the GSE’s class of 2016 at New York’s Lincoln Center, a testimony to her dedication to the teaching profession. She has been a straight A student and graduated with an MS in TESOL with a 3.88 GPA.  

Currently a special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Riss -who majored in Spanish as an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo- teaches grades 6 through 8 at New Venture Middle School, a ‘renewal school,’ located in the Bronx. Despite the challenges she was told to expect working with students who have behavioral issues, Riss says, “I always go in with an open mind, because children act differently with different adults.  I try to give them a fair chance, to get to know them, what kind of learner they are, and how they learn.”

Riss was a seasoned educator, with 11 years of experience when she earned her first master’s degree from Touro in special education. She chose Touro for both of her Master’s degree programs because of its flexible Sunday curriculum, which accommodated her career schedule, and that of her husband, whose work is based in Pennsylvania. She admires Touro’s ability to recognize the education goals of experienced adult learners while also setting the bar high. “The faculty is understanding and the classes are stimulating," she said.

Riss, who was born in the Dominican Republic and whose first language is Spanish, explained how TESOL and ESL are different from Bilingual Education.“TESOL is not bilingual education,” she said, adding that today there is much more diversity among learners. “We have students who speak Arabic, or Urdu (the language of Pakistan) and students from Yemen. It’s like going around the world and learning about life and education and feeling enriched.”

And Riss’s approach speaks to that diversity. “I like to know where they come from and their cultural background. You have to address the culture. You can’t just say ‘you are in the United States now and get with the program.’” 

To become acquainted with her students, Riss interviews their parents and helped develop a survey that addresses “what they know, what their deficits are and how to get to know them,” she said, adding, “I can help students succeed in a country that might be strange to them.”

Supplementing her own skills and training, Riss finds Google’s translator program very helpful. “You put in the sentence, and it will translate.  I’ll use it on my Smart Board in the classroom.” She said students who speak diverse languages will use the app to casually converse with each other through their computer tablets.

Riss is well-respected in the education community and was offered a partial scholarship towards training in administration by her principal. But she declined. “I said no. Administration is not for me, I like being in a classroom.”

Dr. Sonna Opstad, Associate Professor of TESOL/Bilingual Education at the GSE, praised Riss as an outstanding student who took extra care in everything she did. “Her attention to detail, high standards, and exceptional insight were evident in every assignment. She contributed to our work in a constructive and thoughtful way. She is truly an inspiration to her colleagues and to me,” she said.

Dr. Seongshin Kim, Chair of TESOL/Bilingual Education Programs and Associate Professor at the GSE, agreed. “She is a passionate teacher and a great role model for those graduate students who are juggling jobs, schools and family.”

For more information about Touro College Graduate School of Education, visit gse.touro.edu


About the Touro College and University System

Touro is a system of non-profit institutions of higher and professional education. Touro College was chartered in 1970 primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American and global community. Approximately 18,000 students are currently enrolled in its various schools and divisions. Touro College has 29 branch campuses, locations and instructional sites in the New York area, as well as branch campuses and programs in Berlin, Jerusalem and Moscow. New York Medical College; Touro University California and its Nevada branch campus; Touro University Worldwide and its Touro College Los Angeles division; as well as Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill. are separately accredited institutions within the Touro College and University System. For further information on Touro College, please go to: http://www.touro.edu/news/