Candace Heckstall, ’10 (TESOL), leads the charge for immigrant & refugee students in Colorado

Posted on December 13, 2021

Candace Heckstall (TESOL) alum

Candace Heckstall graduated from our TESOL program in 2010 and was one of the participants who went with Dr. Ye He to China as part of the Fulbright-Hays group projects abroad program. She’s now working as a Newcomer specialist at Denver Public Schools and has created some great resources for teachers working with multilingual learners and families in her role. We are very proud of her accomplishments! Please read below a bit from her about her journey so far.

I’ve always loved working with children, and I love helping people. My first taste of educating students came when I worked as a Site Supervisor for the YMCA at my former local church, Green Street United Methodist Church, in Winston-Salem, NC. I managed and supervised the various student tutors who worked with our children of color at our local after-school program. It was my first glimpse into working with children in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. I remembered trying to figure out how to eliminate those unnecessary obstacles and barriers that students of color faced and needed to overcome in order to access the same advantages and privileges their non-POC peers often enjoyed.

That spurred me to apply to the ESL Teacher Preparation Program at UNCG, with specific focus on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (or TESOL). There, I received one of the best educations anyone could receive, studying under Dr. Ye He, who has such a heart and passion for preparing educators to work with our diverse population of students here in the United States. 

After I graduated with my Master’s Degree from UNCG in 2010, I immediately began my teaching career by teaching Elementary ESL in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. I then transferred to Guilford County Schools in 2013, where I continued teaching ESL to elementary students. My focus was also on global education, and I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Shanghai, China as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program participant. This helped me to see that the need for strong TESOL education was truly worldwide! 

I wanted to continue working in TESOL, but I knew that my time in North Carolina was quickly drawing to a close. I knew there were more children to help, and more lives to touch. So, in 2017, my husband and I moved out to Colorado, where I continued teaching ESL, now called ELD, or English Language Development, once again, to elementary students here in Denver, Colorado. I had the distinct privilege of working with even more diverse populations of students; but knew that I could make a greater impact and help even more people–but how?

Which leads me to now. I recently transitioned from teaching and became the Newcomer Specialist for the MLE (or Multilingual Education) Department for Denver Public Schools. Now, I not only support our immigrant and refugee students and their families, but I support the educators who instruct our wonderful students. I also engage in meaningful conversation that could create potentially life-changing experiences for our multilingual learners (or MLLs). We’re currently leading the charge, with our wonderful state and community immigrant and refugee resettlement programs and agencies here in Colorado, to provide resources and supports for our newly arriving Afghan, Burmese, and Sudanese families. Continuing to provide the supports that our families need will help them move from a place of simply surviving, to thriving, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this very hard, but very rewarding, work.

I never thought I’d be here, helping people on a grand scale like this. I just knew that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our children and their families. I’m very grateful for this opportunity, and will continue to serve to the best of my abilities; but I wouldn’t have gotten here if it weren’t for the tireless and continued efforts of the dedicated educators at UNCG who taught ME and saw my potential before I ever knew what it was. I’m very glad to be here.