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Alumni Spotlight

Kathleen Helwig Tourtellotte

B.S. 1988, M.A. 1991

kathleen and gypsy

For as long as she can remember, Kathleen Tourtellotte knew she wanted to be a teacher of young children. Now a two-time graduate of the WVU College of Education and Human Services, Tourtellotte established the Korean Immersion Program at Colin Powell Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Implemented three years ago, it is the first such program on the East Coast for kindergarten students.

Tourtellotte earned her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and her Master of Arts degree in curriculum and instruction. “My experience with the 
College left an imprint on me from the first day I walked into Allen Hall my freshman year at WVU. Teaching was all I ever wanted to do and the College of Education and Human Services allowed me to pursue that goal,” says Tourtellotte.

After graduation in 1988, she took a teaching position in Prince George’s County, Maryland; a very different environment from the one of her childhood. She chose this particular opportunity because she wanted a new and challenging experience.

“Diversity has always been intriguing to me. Growing up, I was always curious about the people and the world around me. When I was in school at WVU, I enjoyed learning about where people came from and their experiences. After some of my student teaching placements, I felt as though I changed as a person and was committed to making a difference in my teaching,” said Tourtellotte.

And she excelled. After two years in Prince George’s County, she earned a commendation letter signed by all of the children that she taught, as well as their parents. Such success compelled her Tourtellotte to return to CEHS to attend graduate school. She was accepted in the Curriculum and Instruction Education Master’s Program and granted a graduate assistantship by her favorite professor, Dr. Sandy DeCosta.

After completing her program in a year, Tourtellotte accepted a position in the Prince William County, Maryland, school system in a lower-income area. Again, her choice of teaching position was based on where she felt she could make the most impact.

Following six years in Prince William County, Tourtellotte spent several years raising her children and starting her own business. Nonetheless, she never lost her passion for teaching. In 2010, when a teacher was needed in a very diverse school in her own community—just a mile from her home in Fairfax County, Virginia—Tourtellotte was quick to step back into the classroom.

Teaching kindergarten at Colin Powell Elementary School, the opportunity for a new program emerged. There was a need for a teacher to implement an immersion program where students would spend about half of each day learning mathematics, science and health in the students’ target language. The other half of the day would be spent learning social studies, health, language arts and reading in English. Due to the high population of Korean families in the county, Korean was selected as the target language. Tourtellotte subsequently implemented the program in the fall of 2012.

According to the World Language Immersion programs in Fairfax County Public Schools, the Two-Way Immersion program focuses on the development of literacy and content area skills in English and Korean. Through this exposure, the students develop both Korean and English language skills. In this way, the program benefits both student populations.

The goal is to continue the program with every grade level so that each has an immersion program by the 2018-2019 school year. As students reach the third grade, the Two-Way Korean Immersion Program and the Advanced Academic Program will be paired so that students will be able to access both programs in the same building. That model will continue through the sixth grade level in preparation for students to move to middle school.

“Many times I find myself reflecting back to certain things my professors in my Education courses taught me about the real world, different ways they would explain how to handle various situations, the experiences they sent me out to explore and observe as well as exciting and innovative ways of looking at life as a teacher. All of those lessons are still relevant in my work today. I will always be forever grateful for all I learned so many years ago and how it is still important to me in my teaching life today,” says Tourtellotte.