When Grayce Studley ’61 became director of bilingual ESL programs at the Portland, Maine, school system in 1983, five language groups were represented and she had six staff members. When she retired in 2003, 57 language groups were represented, and the Office of Multilingual and Multicultural Programs had more than 100 staff members.
During that 20-year span, Studley established Portland as one of the nation’s premier providers of all-encompassing services designed to ease the transition of students into a new culture and a new language. By combining wisdom and chutzpah, Studley developed a national reputation as a guru on matters related to multilingual and multicultural education. The facts and awards speak for themselves:
• Studley secured $20 million from the U.S. Department of Education for funding programs related to all aspects of multicultural and multilingual education: instruction, curriculum development, staff development, parent involvement, and dissemination.
• The Portland public schools earned the Academic Excellence designation from the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, Studley spent 10 years leading seminars and workshops at more than 100 replication sites around the country.
• She made scores of presentations at state, regional, and national bilingual and ESL conferences. “When people learned I was from Portland, they assumed it was Portland, Maine, not Portland, Oregon, because of our reputation in the field,” she said.
• She served as chair of the Maine advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on
In addition to overseeing a superb staff of bilingual specialists and language facilitators with backgrounds spanning the globe, Studley created innovative programs: films, folktale sessions, songbooks, dances, art shows, parent newsletters, cultural bulletins, and on and on.
She and her staff remained ever sensitive to the fact that students should be placed in mainstream classes on an individual basis based on their ability to speak, read, and write English. Moreover she stressed the importance of involving parents in their child’s education. “I urged parents to spend quality time with their children, which might involve reading to them in their native language.”
Studley credits her success largely to her mother, who instilled an interest in other cultures, to her fantastic staff, and to her alma mater. “Colby prepared me very well to do what I did.” She notes that two of her German professors, Henry Schmidt and Phil Bither, were especially influential.
Looking back Studley said, “I loved my job. You never knew what language was going to walk through the door on any given day. It’s important that we share what we know and how we live; we can all learn from each other.”