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Founded in 2017 by a group of VCU SOE stakeholders with expertise on multilngual learners (MLs), the MERC Multilingual Education Research & Evaluation Team collaborates to connect research on issues related to mulitilingualism  with education policy and practice. Originally organized as the English Learner Research and Evaluation Team (ELRET), the team adopted its current name in 2021. The 


Since its inception the team has presented to local school boards and regional conferences, disseminated scholarly information on evidence-based practices, policies, and research, provided professional development to practitioners and school administrators, and engaged in evaluation and research activities.

How can our team support your English learner needs?


The ELRET engages in research and scholarship that focuses on EL issues in PreK-12 education with the goal of contributing to the existing knowledge base and improving EL outcomes. 

As we continue to lead EL-related efforts in Virginia and the Richmond area, some of our current goals include:

1. Applying for grants to support research and evaluation efforts related to EL outcomes in the Virginia and Richmond-area context
2. Conducting evaluations and supporting logic model development of EL instructional programs
3. Continuing to disseminate related scholarly information
4. Publishing related conceptual and research articles

If you would like to contact the team, please email Melissa Cuba at


Palencia, V., Massaro, V. R., Cuba, M. J., Waters, C., N., Rolander, K., & Harris, A. C. (2021). Fostering greater equity for emergent bilinguals through dual language programming. TESOL Journal, e605.

Policy and Practice Brief 1: Virginia Is Not an English-Only Instruction State

Policy and Practice Brief 2: English Learners Are a Priority During COVID-19

Policy and Practice Brief 3: Dual Language Program Are Growing Across Virginia

Policy and Practice Brief 4: The Obligation of Schools to Provide Information to Multilingual Families in a Language They Can Understand

Policy and Practice Brief 5: English Learners and High School Graduation: Beyond the Four Year Pathway

Policy and Practice Brief 6: Considerations for Using ACCESS Test Scores in Decision-Making

Policy and Practice Brief 7: Special Considerations for ACCESS Testing During COVID-19

Presentation: “Empowering multilingual families of English learners during COVID-19” at MERC 2020 Conference 

Presentation “Supporting the mental health of English learners during COVID-19” at MERC 2020 Conference 

EL section in MERC literature review on mental health during COVID-19

EL section in MERC digital equity literature reviews

Fostering educational equity for emergent bilinguals through dual language programming. TESOL Journal 

Dual language programming: A model to enhance school climate and academic achievement in diverse schools






Currently, MERC’s English Learner Research and Evaluation Team (ELRET) consists of nine members from VCU’s SOE.

Melissa Cuba

Dr. Cuba is MERC’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow and earned her doctorate in Curriculum, Culture, and Change at VCU’s School of Education where she teaches courses in social foundations. She has 15 years of practitioner experience in English for speakers of other languages, special education, and Spanish in the U.S., South Korea, and Peru. Dr. Cuba's research focuses on developing and enhancing evidence-based practices and policies to mitigate the disproportionality of English learners in special education and to improve student outcomes. She has published research on factors that impact opportunities and outcomes for English learners and articles on instructional practices that support these students. She leads the MERC English Learner Research and Evaluation Team.

Kate Daly Rolander

Dr. Rolander is a workforce education specialist at the Literacy Institute at VCU and earned her doctorate at VCU’s School of Education. She holds a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Northern Arizona University. As an instructor, a provider of teacher professional development, and an instructional program designer, Kate has worked with adult ELs for 15 years. She coordinates a statewide workforce development program called PluggedInVA that supports lower-literacy adults’ and ELs’ full participation in their workplaces and communities. Rolander’s research interests focus on the integration of ELs into their communities of practice, including schools, neighborhoods, and workspaces.

Luciana C. de Oliveira

Dr. Oliveira is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research focuses on issues related to teaching multilingual learners at the K-12 level, including the role of language in learning the content areas and teacher education, advocacy and social justice. Currently, Dr. de Oliveira’s research examines scaffolding in elementary classrooms. She has authored or edited 24 books and has several and has over 200 publications in various outlets. Dr. de Oliveira has over 25 years of teaching experience in the field of TESOL. She served as President (2018-2019) of TESOL International Association and was a member of the Board of Directors (2013-2016). She was the first Latina to ever serve as President of TESOL.

Andrew Harris

Andrew is a senior at VCU, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies in Early & Elementary Education with a Spanish minor. After serving in AmeriCorps at a linguistically diverse school in Alexandria, Virginia, he decided to return to college to pursue a career in education. As a member of ELRET, he has contributed to publication submissions as well as co-presented at conferences for practitioners. After graduating from VCU, he plans to work as a teacher in public schools, where he will promote multilingualism and multi-literacy. Andrew is an undergraduate research assistant with MERC.


Virginia Massaro

Dr. Massaro is a Lecturer in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Old Dominion University and earned her doctorate at VCU’s School of Education. She began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher in central Virginia and taught in the primary grades for seven years. Her research focuses on literacy and language development of English learners, dual language immersion programs, multicultural children’s literature, culturally relevant/sustaining pedagogy, and global citizenship. She teaches courses on the foundations of education, language arts methods K-6, and integrating the curriculum.

Virginia Palencia

Dr. Palencia is an affiliate scholar in the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently an ESL teacher for Williamsburg James City County Schools. She earned her doctorate at VCU’s School of Education in Educational Leadership, Policy and Justice. She taught high school for eight years in the Hampton Roads area before beginning her Ph.D. work. In addition, she has served as a lecturer for Christopher Newport University for nine years and has taught courses on research methodology and writing for research at VCU. Her area of research includes equity, access and segregation, specifically regarding Latinx students and English learners. 

Hillary Parkhouse

Dr. Parkhouse is a faculty member in the VCU SOE Department of Teaching and Learning. She began her career in education as a high school history and literature teacher in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic from 2004-05. She then taught social studies and ESL in a New York City public high school for five years before beginning the Ph.D. program in culture, curriculum, and change at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Parkhouse’s research focuses on critical citizenship education in urban classrooms, youth activism, and teaching practices that promote political efficacy. Her other areas of research include immigration and education, global education and teaching for social justice. She teaches courses on secondary school curriculum and teaching English as a Second Language.

Jesse Senechal

Dr. Senechal is the Director of MERC in VCU’s SOE. Senechal leads a number of research efforts for MERC in the Richmond region on topics such as teacher professional development for cultural diversity, teacher retention, teacher residency models, and student out-of-schooltime programming. Prior to his work in educational research, Senechal spent 14 years teaching in urban high schools in Chicago and Richmond. His time in Chicago included three years of work on a collaborative action research team focused on developing curriculum for a social justice program embedded within a comprehensive Chicago public high school. He earned his PhD in Research, Assessment, and Evaluation from the VCU School of Education.

Carolyn Waters

Dr. Waters is an affiliate scholar in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University and English as a second language teacher in Chesterfield County Public Schools. She has taught ESL for over two decades at the middle school, high school, community college, and university levels, and has facilitated professional development workshops for teachers of English learners. Carolyn earned a doctorate in Education from VCU in 2020. Her research focuses on the validity of language proficiency testing and on addressing the social/emotional needs of immigrant youth through mindfulness programming and restorative practices.

Yaoying Xu

Dr. Xu is Director of the International Educational Studies Center (IESC) in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Professor in Counseling and Special Education Department at VCU. Her research focuses on social and language skills of culturally and linguistically diverse children with or without disabilities. As the PI or co-PI, she has received a number of federal, state, and university research awards investigating the impact of social and cultural factors on children’s developmental and educational outcomes. Her current research examines the effects of adult-scaffolded peer tutoring on young English learners’ social and language skills. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters in the fields of special education, general education, and multicultural education in addition to over 150 presentations at national and international professional conferences.

Hali Massey

Hali is the ESOL Specialist at the Literacy Institute at VCU. She holds a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Southern California. Hali has been working in the ESL field for 7 years. She started her ESL teaching career working abroad and has since taught and administered English language instruction in higher education intensive English language programs, taught adult ESL classes, and administered student and exchange visitor programs. Her current role focuses on coordinating teacher professional development that aligns with state and federal initiatives, as well as local interests and needs. This work includes the design and delivery of online courses, face-to-face workshops, and virtual meetings, all with a focus on the practice of teaching English to adult learners. Hali is interested in pursuing research related to the empowerment of adult English language learners, community building, and amplifying learner voice.