Dr. Dalton’s ‘Hot Chocolate Club’ helps ESL students at Lansing school

Dr. Robert Dalton

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles profiling recipients of the 2013 MEA Human Rights and Excellence awards.)

Robert Dalton starts his day at Lansing’s Everett High School with his “Hot Chocolate Club” at 7 a.m. His students know they can stop by and get some help with a homework assignment, practice their English and check out the latest soccer scores — all with a cup of hot chocolate.

Dalton ends his day much in the same way, with after-school tutoring for students who need help with their English speaking and writing skills.

In between, he teaches English to students from Honduras, Nepal, Bali, Iraq and other places from all over the world. For many of them, Dalton represents their hope for a successful future in America — and it’s why MEA has honored him with the Irma Ramos Award for Bilingual Education.

Dalton began his career as an English teacher in a private school in Mexico with 3,000 students. After eight years of teaching, he was promoted to head of the foreign language department, where he gained experience developing curriculum that focused on the challenges of teaching English as a second language to students.

But Dalton wanted to come home. And after a year of teaching at the University of Michigan Flint and working on his Ph.D., he knew what he wanted to do: teach English to foreign-born students in an urban school.

A “calling” — that’s how Dalton describes his 22 years of teaching at Everett High School, helping students who have come to the United States with their families looking for a better life.

 “I want to make a difference in the lives of my students,” Dalton said. “I want to show them the possibilities that are out there for them — whether it’s college, vocational school or any career. I want to give them the fundamental skills so they can be successful at whatever they want to do.”

Dalton’s students benefit not only from his command of language, but also from his approach to learning. Since students are grouped by their command of English, he has students from different countries and at different levels, all in one classroom. He puts students in common language groups and they help one another learn. And by helping others, the students strengthen their own command of English. His patience with and respect for his students create a learning environment that empowers them.

Thanks to Dalton’s efforts, Everett’s ESL program has grown. He spearheaded the purchase of a lab equipped with the Rosetta Stone language program, so students can sharpen their listening and speaking skills and learn at their own pace. And through his work on the School Improvement Team, Dalton runs a six-week credit-recovery program for ESL students who don’t pass a core academic program.

Parents are a key part of Dalton’s program. He visits families of students regularly, which provides him with a multi-cultural connection that’s appreciated by his students and their families. Each month, parents are invited to celebrate their child’s academic success with Dalton’s “Viking of the Month” program. ESL students have been nominated by the academic departments at Everett and are recognized at a breakfast attended by their parents.

His colleagues who recommended him for this award said: “He is a dedicated individual who always has the best interest of the students he teaches in mind. He is respected by administrators, parents and teachers. His collaborative attitude is infectious, influencing all of his colleagues and whomever he comes in contact with. The end result is a better education for our students.”

But Dalton doesn’t do what he does for the awards or recognition — even though they’re much appreciated.

“I do this because I just love these kids,” Dalton said.