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Participants of MCHF Workforce English Program sitting at a table smiling with volunteer Keirah Comstock

Languaging for Health and Employment Equity

Community initiative

A Highly Flexible English Program for Immigrants and Refugees and a Space for Language Teachers to Become Student and Family Advocates.

Quick facts

Director/PI: Principal Investigator Hairong Shang-Butler and Co-Principal Investigator Nicole King

Collaborators: Rochester Refugee Resettlement ServicesJewish Senior LifeSpecial Touch BakeryAdrian Jules, PaneVita Bakery

Funding: Mother Cabrini Health Foundation (MCHF)

Related Projects: Center for Urban Education Success


The Warner School of Education’s multilingual education programs, led by Hairong Shang-Butler, an associate professor of teaching and curriculum, and Nicole King, an assistant professor of teaching and curriculum, are dedicated to addressing the language learning needs of adult refugees and immigrants in the Rochester community. This initiative, supported by both current and former Warner School students and volunteers from local communities, employs a comprehensive approach to English language education. 

The program offers a variety of courses tailored to the unique needs of working refugees and immigrants, incorporating a blend of onsite English learning at participants’ workplaces and online learning. Emphasizing cultural sustainability and trauma-informed instruction, the 20-week HyFlex TESOL program is designed to be highly flexible and responsive to its learners' diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Through this initiative, the Warner School aims to empower immigrants and refugees with the essential English language skills they need. The program's emphasis on flexibility, cultural responsiveness, and trauma-informed instruction reflects a commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by individuals with the greatest need for language proficiency improvement. Additionally, teaching in these programs will fill a gap in the understanding that language teacher candidates have in their understanding of the community and in how they can design their classroom to welcome, affirm, and respect the languages and cultures of their students and their families.

Team Members

Hairong Shang-Butler

Hairong Shang-Butler

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

Hairong Shang-Butler is an associate professor at the Warner School. An immigrant from China, and a passionate advocate for linguistically and culturally diverse communities. She is committed to bringing education, and health equity to adults and K-12 students with refugee and immigrant backgrounds.  She is the PI of two projects: Languaging for Health and Employment Equity: A Highly Flexible English Program for Immigrants and Refugees, and a Space for Language Teachers to Become Student and Family Advocates (Mother Cabrini Health Foundation) and Cross-Cultural and Mandarin Education mini-grant : Multilingualism Rocks /“沟通中西”:汉语教师发展营(Center for Bridging Cultures). 

Nicole KingNicole King

Nicole King is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the TESOL and World Language certification programs at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. She is a former elementary and middle school teacher with certifications in TESOL, as an intervention specialist, and in early childhood education. Her research explores the translingual and transmodal practices of multilingual students, families, and teachers. She is the Co-PI of the Languaging for Health and Employment Equity: A Highly Flexible English Program for Immigrants and Refugees, and a Space for Language Teachers to Become Student and Family Advocates grant project (Mother Cabrini Health Foundation) and Cross-Cultural and Mandarin Education Mini-grant (Center for Bridging Cultures). She is the former PI and Program Director of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program hosted at the University of Rochester in the Fall 2023 semester. Her work has been published in the TESOL Journal, System, Foreign Language Annals, Language Teaching, and her recent co-edited volume, Developing Translanguaging Repertoires in Critical Teacher Education.

Yadi Zhang

Yadi Zhang

Yadi Zhang is a PhD student in teaching and curriculum whose research interests center on applying technology to mediate ESL language learning. Drawing from her own experiences as an international student, she passionately believes in the potential of each English language learner with a refugee and immigrant background. She currently works as the program coordinator of the Work Place English Program for refugees and immigrants. She is committed to ensuring that every language learner has equal access to educational resources as well as empowering them in a culturally diverse learning community. 

Vanessa MedinaVanessa Medina

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Vanessa Medina is a Scandling scholar and current doctoral student in the teaching and curriculum program. As a former English language teacher and instructional designer, her research interests include intercultural communication, language and culture, and teacher education. She is also a Fulbright-García Robles alumna of the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program (2018), and grantee of the EducationUSA Opportunity Funds program (2023). Currently, she is a lead teacher at one of the Workplace English Program sites.

Berka MouBerka Mou

Berka Mou is a retired high school language teacher. He taught French in Morocco for six years; French, Spanish, and Arabic in U.S. high schools for 30 years; and English in the Refugee Resettlement Services for eight years. He likes teaching English to refugees because they are very interested and they need it to improve their lives in the United States.

Xizhen ChengXizhen Cheng

Xizhen Cheng is a graduate student in the TESOL program. She graduated from James Madison University in 2022 with a major in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies and a minor in Exceptional Education. Her experiences as a special education teaching assistant at Stone Spring Elementary School and as an English teaching assistant at the Dongguan Disabled Labor and Employment Service Center deepened her understanding of the challenges in language education and special education. Currently, she is a lead teacher at Special Touch Bakery, where she teaches refugee and immigrant adults from Afghanistan and the Dominican Republic. This experience has not only fueled her passion to make a positive impact on language learners but also given her the joy of growing alongside her students, assisting them in achieving their full potential.

Jiajia WuJiaji Wu

Jiaji Wu pursued the TESOL program for her graduate studies, driven by a passion for assisting English language learners, especially refugees, immigrants, and students with interrupted formal education (SIFE). Her goal is to contribute to their language development and facilitate their integration into new communities. She is dedicated to making a positive impact, and she looks forward to expanding her reach to help more individuals on their language learning journey.