Beth Quarles is a first-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. A graduate of Lipscomb University, Quarles earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and her master’s degree in teaching English language learners and instructional leadership.
Quarles has spent more than a decade working in education. Upon completion of her undergraduate work, Quarles spent two years teaching English and American culture at Three Gorges University in Yichang, China. In addition to her time in China, Quarles taught at elementary schools in Nashville, Tenn., and Jonesboro, Ark., before coming to the Clinton School.
Along with three other first-year students, Quarles spent the 2017-18 academic year working on a Practicum project with the Hope Academy of Public Service, assessing the impact of a middle school public service curriculum.
This summer, Quarles will work with Girl Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas as a placement specialist. She will focus on developing partnerships within the Hispanic community. Quarles will work to recruit volunteers and girls to springboard into a Girl Scout program in the Hispanic community. She will also be involved with direct programming for the girls, working on community cultivation, and providing support to current members.
How did you become an instructor at Three Gorges University?
At Lipscomb University, the college I attended, one of my professors was trying to set up a partnership between a Chinese university and Lipscomb so that students and faculty could go back and forth for an exchange program.
A group of friends and I – there were four of us – were going to move to China together, and we were going to work at this university. And the Chinese university was going to send four teachers to Lipscomb to teach. At the last minute, that didn’t work out. But, there’s an organization called China Now that does a lot of mission work in China, which set us up with a university in China – Three Gorges – and we were able to teach there.
A lot of it was just correcting stereotypes. A lot of students thought that all Americans owned jets. China has a tiered university system, so how well the students did on their entrance exam determined where they were placed or limited their choices.
A lot of the students that attended Three Gorges came from a country background. The only experience that they ever had with American culture was from movies. Anything that they had seen in movies was what they thought American lives were like. A lot of it was just showing that we aren’t that different.
What has your experience with Hope Schools been like based on your service interest in education?
I really enjoyed it. I have taught for 10 years. I was an elementary school teacher. When I came to the Clinton School and we had the list of practicum topics, I went back and forth – I didn’t know if I wanted to do something in the education field, because I’ve had so much experience in that. I wasn’t sure if it was my top choice. But I’m so grateful it was, because I really do find myself missing the classroom more than I ever could have thought.
It was really nice to be in the school once a week. It’s really neat to see the Clinton School framework applied in a middle school setting. That’s something I’ve never gotten to see before. The fact that kids are talking about big issues that I know I never talked about when I was in middle school. It is really cool to see these students thinking bigger than themselves. The whole community is really dedicated to making it a really good experience for the students. It’s really encouraging, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
After I finished undergrad, I went to China for two years. Then, I started working for Metro Nashville Schools at Una Elementary. I taught fourth-grade ESL for two years. All of my students were non-native English speakers. I was also a literacy coach and family engagement specialist. I set up a parent center at our elementary school. I ran Title I budgets for our school.
When I was 24, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I took a year off and ran a bed and breakfast, because that was a lifelong dream. I really live by my dreams; I’m not putting dreams off. I did that for a year, then went back to the same school in Nashville and taught first grade. Then, I moved to Jonesboro, Ark., where I taught three years for the Nettleton School District. I taught first grade there, as well.
When teaching ESL students, what is a useful skill that people wouldn’t expect?
This sounds a little silly, but hospitality. When I lived in China, everyone had me to their home. All of the students wanted me to come home with them and have a meal with them. I felt like a lot of the families of my ESL students, when they moved to the United States, didn’t have that same hospitality and it really showed. They closed themselves off to some degree. They weren’t as involved in school and school family nights. I don’t think that they necessarily felt welcome.
When I became an ESL teacher, a lot of parents would relate to me. I would talk about my experience in China, and that I knew what it felt like to be an outsider. They really started opening up. Then, I would have class family nights where we would have potlucks. I would have things just for my classroom, so parents could get to feel more comfortable and hopefully that would carry over into school-wide events. Hospitality goes really far. Even if you can’t speak the same language, you can at least share a meal together. It’s amazing what doors open from that, just sharing a meal.
Tell us about your role with Girl Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
I work there part-time currently. Right now, I’m a placement specialist, so when someone calls to sign their daughter up, I fill a spot based on what troops have spots open. They are really wanting to get more involved in Hispanic communities, specifically through setting up troops for Spanish speakers and finding ways for their mothers to get involved. I’ll be working a lot in northwest Arkansas but will be based here in Little Rock. We’ll be working to create community partners, hopefully with churches. Hopefully those partnerships will springboard into recruiting more volunteers and more girls for Girl Scouts.