Lester Lambert, one of seven citywide awardees of the Literacy Recognition Award, has taught at BMCC’s Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development since 2003, and worked in adult literacy for over 20 years.
Having grown up in Brooklyn, he started his college career at BMCC, then transferred to Brooklyn College, earning a bachelor’s degree in public communication, with a double minor in secondary education and English.
Throughout his undergraduate years at both colleges, he worked helping other students in the tutoring center at BMCC.
“I enjoyed BMCC and learned a lot there,” he says. “It has a lot of good academic support.” He also felt well supported as a tutor at BMCC, and recalls his then-supervisor Theresa Artemus telling him when he received his first opportunity to teach in an adult education program, “You know how I feel about that—if it’s full time, go for it.”
A teacher’s path
The recent Recognition Award ceremony was held at The New School’s Theresa Lang Auditorium in the West Village, and attended by over 200 educators, funders and administrators.
In the years leading to that day, Lambert taught in adult education programs throughout CUNY, at BEGIN, and in community-based organizations, eventually joining the teaching staff at BMCC.
Along the way, he earned a Master in Language and Literacy degree from the English Department at City College/CUNY.
He has also continued to deepen his pedagogy through a number of projects—many led by CUNY staff developer Kate Brandt, who also happens to have been an awardee of this year’s Recognition Award.
“With a lot of help from Kate,” Lambert says, “I developed a GED lesson set, College Going, that provides excerpts of books in which main characters are first in their family to attend college—Mama’s Girl, by Veronica Chambers; Reaching Out, by Francisco Jiménez; No Disrespect, by Sister Souljah, and others.
His theme-based curriculum, Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow guides students in the data analysis of incarceration in the United States. They also read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, in which a young man on death row in 1940s Louisiana—and whose legal defense is based on the presumption that his race precludes his capacity for pre-meditation—determinedly learns to read.
“The students wrote imaginative dialogues between Michelle Alexander [a contemporary civil rights advocate] and Grant Wiggins, the character who teaches Jefferson to read,” says Lambert. “They also used the online program Nicenet, which is similar to Blackboard, as a sandbox for drafts and revisions of their dialogues.”
Theme-based math instruction
While reading and writing instruction are a focus for Lambert, he is also active in the NYC Math Exchange Group, a teacher collaborative dedicated to improving mathematics instruction and learning in Adult Education.
In a Wall Street-based curriculum he developed with college and GED math educator Elliot Fink, Lambert explains that the students “looked at wealth and equality in the United States, and did Power Point presentations on Wall Street topics such as Ponzi schemes.”
They also, he says, “looked at connections between the founders of the Stock Exchange and the slave trade, and went on a field trip to the Museum of American Finance.”
Bridging the gap between high school and college
In the twenty years since Lester Lambert entered the adult education field, he says, he has seen an increased focus in preparing high school students for college, and adds that the Literacy Recognition Awards acknowledge the hard work it has taken to maintain educational standards during that shift, as well as during times of harsh funding cuts.
“It’s good to bring attention to the seriousness and importance of our field,” Lambert says.
“Students are leaving high school unprepared for college-level work, whether they graduate or not. The chasm between leaving high school and being successful in college is deepening, and what we’re doing in adult education is bridging that gap.”
A generous grant from the Book Industry Guild
Along with Lester Lambert, other Recognition Award winners were Kate Brandt, Professional Development Coordinator for CUNY Adult Literacy Programs; Victor C. Edrosolan, Instructor at Literacy Partners; John Fenton, Instructor at the Brooklyn College Adult Literacy Program; Francine Mallozzi, Administrative Assistant at the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development’s Adult Literacy Unit; Melissa Nieves, Director of Adult Education at Union Settlement, and Weihua Wendy Wen, Instructor at the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Adult and Continuing Education.
Each awardee’s program received a generous library development grant from the Book Industry Guild of New York.
The event also received support from the NYS Education Department, Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services (ACCES).
This year’s keynote speaker was Irwin S. Kirsch, Director of the Center for Global Assessment of the Educational Testing Services. Literacy Assistance Center (LAC) board member Jacqueline Cook delivered welcoming comments, and the award recipients were introduced by LAC Board Chair Elizabeth Horton. Ira Yankwitt, LAC Executive Director, gave closing remarks.