Closer Connections Conference to be held in Sioux Falls November 8 & 9

October 18, 2017


This coming month Lutheran Services of South Dakota and Dakota TESL will be hosting the 2017 Closer Connections Conference, Pioneering New PATHS:  Promoting Acquisition to Heighten Success.

The Closer Connections Conference includes:

  • Best practices for teaching English Language Learners at all ages and levels of proficiency
  • Cultural panels
  • Breakout sessions on refugee resettlement and immigration
  • Networking opportunities

I was able to talk to Dakota TESL President-elect, Diana Streleck, who said, “The Closer Connection Conference provides teachers and community members a venue in which to discuss and learn about the educational needs and cultural backgrounds of the English Language Learner in our communities.”

Thanks in part to the South Dakota Humanities Council, the one of the keynote speakers of the conference will be, Dr. Amer Ahmed, a prominent national speaker and intercultural diversity consultant, who will deliver a keynote address and discussion session, “Addressing Islamophobia: Dispelling Myths to Break Down Barriers.”


Amer F. Ahmed, Ed. D., is an individual with an eclectic personal and professional background. As an intercultural diversity consultant, college administrator, facilitator, poet and Hip Hop activist, he channels his diverse experiences towards effectively changing how we interact with the world around us.  Born in Springfield, Ohio, to Indian Muslim immigrants, Amer has dedicated his life to engaging and facilitating diversity across human difference. Powerful study abroad experiences in South Africa and Nepal have been enhanced by his deep interest in anthropology and Black Studies. His Indian-Muslim-American upbringing, together with his education and international experiences form the basis of his message to his audiences—respect and dignity for all people.

The second keynote speaker will be, Dr. John Schmidt, an educator, trainer, program developer and administrator with extensive international experience will present a keynote address and break-out session reflecting on “At Home in the World: Building Language Skills to House ESL Acquisition.”


The great-grandson of Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin, John was raised in the Upper Midwest. In sixth grade he was introduced to a second language, Spanish, by his teacher from Cuba. This encounter was the beginning of his world travels which led him to studying and working in Spain as well as training teachers and developing programs for a variety of educational entities on all five continents.  He currently teaches ESL for the Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) in Austin, Texas. In addition, he has volunteered his time and expertise in various capacities with TESOL International and Toastmasters International. He has co-authored several ESL textbooks addressing teaching, grammar and English for Specific Purposes.

The Closer Connections Conference gives the local community the opportunity to learn about refugees and immigrants from different countries, listen to international speakers, and engage in interactive sessions to understand diversity in our community.

If you would like to register for the conference, please visit the Dakota TESL website: for more information.

Posted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor and Dakota TESL Secretary


There’s Nothing Quite Like a Village of Thinkers

November 17, 2015

It is often said “it takes a village” to raise children, highlighting that everyone in a community must do his or her part to help young people grow mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Perhaps, though, this saying not only applies to children, but also to fields of knowledge.

I definitely felt this to be the case last week when English language teachers from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota gathered in the Holiday Inn City Centre in downtown Sioux Falls to discuss how to better reach out to and teach the non-native English speakers in this region.

Nearly 300 educators and community leaders met for two days last week as part of the annual Closer Connections Conference sponsored by Dakota TESL and LSS of South Dakota.  Topics of conversation and presentation ranged from “Myths and Realities of Immigration” to “Making English Meaningful” – from “Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary” to “Options for Undocumented Youth.”  In other words, the conference covered the whole gamut of topics relating to refugees and immigrants, from children to adults.

dakota TESL       Dakota TESL provides support , advocacy, and professional development opportunities for those who work with English as a second language students or English language learners. 

Susan Torres, an LSS English teacher here in Sioux Falls, who has also taught English in Spain and Argentina, said, “I got techniques to use for the classroom, I got a better understanding of the refugee resettlement process, and I also got to hear the sadness of the situation in Darfur (Sudan) from a Darfur Panel.  In other words, I have lots of things to digest from the conference.”

I felt the same way.

There is nothing quite like a village of thinkers to get you to rethink your practices, expand your knowledge, and expose you to new ideas.

Amy Vander Lugt, who also teaches here in Sioux Falls with LSS and has lived in China, said she especially appreciated a presentation about SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) by Jill Watson, a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.

jill_watson   Dr. Jill Watson is passionate about helping SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) learners who come to the U.S.  Watson was a Keynote Speaker at the Closer Connections Conference.

“(Watson) has a wonderful way of helping teachers see the strengths of these students’ prior experience, while giving good ideas about how to help them transition successfully to our academic school settings,” Amy said.

I couldn’t agree more. It was especially interesting to hear Jill discuss the strengths of oral-based cultures vs. literacy-based cultures.  It is always nice to be reminded that while one’s own culture may have strengths, other cultures do too.  We can all learn from each other – and we all have things to share to make each other’s lives more meaningful.

That really was the bottom line of the conference. It is vital that we are always learning from others in our field – regardless of what that field is.  It is vital that we keep open minds, that we continue to move forward. We are a village of learners and teachers, and these roles change frequently, and that is a good thing.

Stay tuned for future blog posts about specific sessions of the conference. I can’t wait to tell you in greater detail about some of my favorites.

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson

Glimpses from the Closer Connections Conference!!

October 8, 2013

The Closer Connections Conference, co-hosted by Dakota TESL and LSS of SD continues today at the Holiday Inn City Centre.  Here’s a glimpse of some of yesterday’s highlights!

Elizabeth Skelton

Elizabeth Skelton presenting

K Boyz Couple

K Boyz Performing

K Boyz Dancing

K Boyz Dancing

Karen Karenni Panel

Karen and Karenni Cultural Panel


Fair-Trade Vendors

Closer Connections Conference!

September 19, 2013

Mark your calendars!

October 7th and 8th Dakota TESL and Lutheran Social Services of SD (LSS) will be co-hosting the Closer Connections Conference!  This conference, held at the Holiday Inn City Centre in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, offers professional development for teachers and service providers of diverse populations and acts as the state’s refugee resettlement conference.

“The purpose is to provide professional development and connections amongst those who work with diverse populations in this region,” said Laura Smith-Hill, Education Coordinator at LSS Refugee and Immigration Center.

Approximately 200 professionals from South Dakota, North Dakota, and surrounding states are expected to attend. If you are a K-12 teacher, adult educator, nurse or social work, please consider joining us!

Conference highlights include:
• Two keynote addresses and five in-depth workshops from international presenters, Suzanne Panferov and Elizabeth Skelton
• Workshops from Michael Jones, Division Chief of Citizenship Education and Training for the USCIS Office of Citizenship
• Keynote session from Steve Young, reporter with the Sioux Falls Argus Leader
• Entertainment will include traditional Kunama music and dance
• Vendors will showcase both educational resources and handiwork created by artists from Uganda, Tanzania, Guatemala and other countries
• Cultural panels will include local presenters from Bhutan, Nepal, Burma (also known as Myanmar), Eritrea, Congo, and South Sudan
• Regional expertise from teachers and professors will address various topics in 32 breakout sessions

Elizabeth Skelton, Independent Consultant for ESL, will present three dynamic workshops for educators

Elizabeth Skelton, Independent Consultant for ESL, will present three dynamic workshops for educators

Suzanne Panferov, Past-President of the TESOL International Association, will facilitate workshops on second language acquisition and program administration

Suzanne Panferov, Past-President of the TESOL International Association, will facilitate workshops on second language acquisition and program administration

When asked what she looks forward to most about the conference, Amy Vander Lugt, teacher at LSS Refugee and Immigration Center, answered “the quality speakers and presenters who give me good teaching ideas…and the cultural panels where the people themselves can speak about their culture and perspective rather than other people speaking about them…always very interesting and insightful.”

One graduate education credit and continuing education contact, social work and counseling CEU’s will be available, pending approval.

Early-bird registration ends September 27th! For more information, visit or contact conference committee members:
Laura Smith-Hill,, 605-731-2040
Missy Slaathaug,, 605-252-1298

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