2019-2020 Zulma Mojica
A daughter of educators, Zulma never doubted becoming a teacher. A few years after emigrating to the U.S. from Colombia, she earned an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Woman’s University (TWU). As Zulma pursued her degree, she started working as an elementary bilingual teacher with Denton ISD. With 18 years of experience as a teacher, she is currently a bilingual reading interventionist and instructional coach at Hodge Elementary School. Zulma is also completing a Ph.D. in Reading Education from the Department of Literacy and Learning at TWU with a PIONERAS scholarship.
For Zulma, being an educator is one of the most rewarding careers. She considers her mother’s 40-year dedicated service to elementary grade children an inspiration. From her mother Zulma learned that teaching is more than a profession. She says,
Teaching is passion, love, and an opportunity to help and make a difference in many children's lives… our role in our students’ lives is vital in establishing the foundational skills to become successful and independent learners.
This role is especially critical in an environment, Zulma mentions, in which using a language other than English is still perceived as a deficiency, and practices based on monolingual perspectives contribute to the loss of maternal language and biliterate and bilingual identities. As a native Spanish speaker with expertise in teaching in her first language, Zulma is well equipped to navigate such an environment. She attributes to these qualifications her ability to realize and understand the many challenges emergent bilinguals (EBs) face in their journey to biliteracy. They also help her define her role as a bilingual educator; this is to provide them with opportunities to develop their literacy and linguistic awareness in both languages.
Zulma has become an advocate for EBs in her school, district, and even at TWU through her role as mentor and educator of pre-service bilingual teachers. She is utilizing these platforms to empower current and future teachers to make a difference in the lives of EBs by helping them become aware of, and value their unique language skills, and take pride in their bilingualism. Zulma encourages them to “take a more critical view on language use in bilingual and multilingual settings, and to create spaces for EBs and English learners to freely use their unique linguistic abilities.”
When talking about her journey as an educator, Zulma refers to her participation in PIONERAS. She says that her doctoral classes, her certificate of biliteracy, as well as her role as mentor and professor of preservice teachers, have shaped her practice especially regarding EB literacy instruction by developing a more critical perspective towards education. She adds:
Participating in PIONERAS has provided me with many opportunities to expand my knowledge and experience in different areas, including bilingual literacy, reading instruction, and improving my academic writing skills… I have gained confidence in my teaching and taken a more flexible and sociocultural approach to language instruction.
Encouraged by faculty mentors, Zulma has presented in academic conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals. She has a promising professional and academic future and plans to contribute to the innovation and development of relevant knowledge and practices.
2019-2020 Juan Borda
Juan Borda, a teacher for 20 years, relies on compassion and understanding when implementing instructional practices in his first grade classroom. His students’ excitement makes him feel happy and proud when he sees them learning a new concept or decoding English and Spanish simultaneously. A Colombian native, Juan obtained a B.Sc. Degree in Architecture and, once in Texas, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Woman’s University. The example of his mother and other close family members who are educators, helped him develop a strong desire to become a teacher:
I used to visit my mom at school and interact with her students since I was a child. Those experiences were unforgettable. Later, during my senior year at college, I co-taught a freshman course. Eventually, I moved to the United States to continue my educational journey and became a bilingual and generalist teacher.
Undeniably, Juan has had a rich educational journey. For the last 19 years he has worked at Evers Park Elementary School, a Title I campus and PIONERAS partner at Denton ISD, as a first, second, fourth and fifth grade bilingual teacher. Throughout those years, Juan has worked closely with the families of his emergent bilingual students, and together they have witnessed their success.
It is unique when former students call you or invite you to their high school or college graduation ceremony. Students' words and expressions of appreciation can lift your spirit in difficult times. Those words will resonate in me forever. Knowing that you give the best you have to your students is very gratifying.
Well aware of the many challenges that bilingual students currently face, Juan is intentional in maintaining and enriching his students’ first language, culture and identity: “In a society that empowers assimilation and monolingualism, students confronting this reality tend to lose their heritage language, their identity”, he affirms. Juan recognizes and accepts his role as advocate of his students and their families, and is vocal about the need to create spaces for his bilingual students to learn: “… educators must maintain and promote their students' diversity. Schools should enforce policies that recognize the advantages of being bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural.”
Juan recognizes that his students bring their best to the classroom. For this reason, he sees himself as a facilitator of learning, and integrates his students’ funds of knowledge into his instruction. His efforts to provide the best bilingual education to his students have motivated him to embrace the academic and experiential opportunities that PIONERAS has offered to him. With financial, academic, and mentoring support, Juan has not only obtained his Certificate of Biliteracy from the Department of Literacy and Learning at TWU, but is also pursuing a Ph.D. Degree in Reading Education from the same institution:
My professors and colleagues have guided and supported me in exploring new educational experiences while attending the program. Being an adjunct instructor in the Bilingual/ESL program at TWU in the Summer of 2020 was a significant experience. So has been presenting my research at the local, state, and national conferences, as well as being a mentor to preservice bilingual teachers and the co-author of a publication in a professional journal.
Finally, Juan translates these experiences into service for his students and their families.
I want my students to become independent, creative, and critical learners whose dreams come true every day. In the long term, I want them to become successful and productive people in the community.
For Juan, obtaining his Ph.D. will be a dream made a reality. We, in PIONERAS, acknowledge his talents as bilingual/dual language teacher, mentor, and teacher educator and support him in his goal of influencing the lives of new generations and promoting a more equitable society.
2018-2019 Margarita Ramos-Rivera
Margarita grew up in San Juan,Puerto Rico. In 2005, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Universidad Del Este with an education degree and, for the past 20 years, has taught elementary grades in Puerto Rico and Texas. She currently teaches 4th grade language arts and social studies at Ginnings Elementary School, one of PIONERAS’ partnering schools. Margarita has loved teaching since she was a little girl and always felt that becoming a teacher was her calling. However, it was motherhood what convinced her to pursue that calling. She said:
“Since I was a little girl I played teacher but it was just a dream back then. Later on when I became a mother, I realized that I was my child’s first teacher and that he was learning.”
In Puerto Rico, Margarita worked as a teacher’s aide and as a provisionally certified teacher while she attended college and was raising a family. In 2009, Hillsboro Independent School District in Texas hired her as a teacher, when they visited Puerto Rico in search of bilingual educators. This was a fulfilling moment in her life.
Margarita definitely believes in the contributions she makes as a teacher, and is grateful for the example and support of people around her. She notes:
“I am constantly looking for innovative ways to help achieve academic and lifelong goals. I became a teacher to make a difference, inspired by another bilingual teacher... my aunt Rosa, my parents, husband, my boys and many other good people that motivate me to become a better version of myself.”
She honors this example by inspiring and motivating those she comes in contact with on a daily basis. The principles that guide her teaching philosophy are perseverance, courage, respect and humility, and she relies on these principles in all aspects of her teaching. Because of this, Margarita is no stranger to the challenges her emergent bilingual students face at school and at home, but her positive and caring disposition have strengthened her decision to be an agent of change in the lives of her students. She says:
“My role is to facilitate student learning regardless of all the challenges they could face. I want to inspire my students and fearlessly advocate for their interests and dreams… This gives me the grit to learn new teaching strategies, and incorporate modern technologies or concepts into lessons.”
This “grit” that Margarita refers to has been palpable during her participation in Project PIONERAS. After completing the PIONERAS Tier 1 program (three courses in ESL/SLA/academic language), this goal-oriented teacher decided to apply for the project’s Tier 2 scholarship and pursue an M.Ed. in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum at Texas Woman’s University, degree that she will complete this December. She has successfully transformed her own learning into innovative ways to provide her students with the highest quality of education possible, stating, “Translanguaging opened up a new point of view into bilingualism. I started practicing it in my classroom, which made a difference in validating my students’ language repertoire regardless of which was the language of instruction.”
Margarita counts mentoring undergraduate bilingual education students, peer-learning and the support of TWU faculty among the most relevant and fulfilling experiences she has had while participating in PIONERAS, claiming that “through PIONERAS my own language and literacy skills have improved as well as my students’ academic achievement. As a matter of fact, last year my students obtained the second highest SELI scores in the whole school district.”
Her growth as a professional educator has given Margarita the confidence to lead a curriculum development project aimed at enhancing the way her school addresses the academic needs of its emergent bilingual students. She says:
“I have grown so much as a professional, thanks to TWU and PIONERAS. I have opened my eyes to new horizons, I now see beyond... where new experiences and challenges to conquer await me!”
2017-2018 Beatriz Gutiérrez
“I introduce myself as a bilingual education major; I’m 4th through 8th. And when people say ‘Oh! You’re the education major’ I say ‘No, bilingual education major’.”
Back in the 1990s, Beatriz Gutiérrez was only a second grader in Texas when she started transitioning into an English-only classroom setting and receiving ESL pull-out services. Despite the circumstances that distanced Beatriz from using her native language at elementary school, she decided to return to Spanish in middle and high school, having the support of her parents and teachers.
Although initially Beatriz had planned to pursue a health-related career, her experience as a math tutor for undergraduate students at Texas Woman’s University awakened her interest in combining her math skills with bilingual education. She wanted to help those children who suffered from a language barrier as Beatriz did as a young student. “I think this is it. I think this is my purpose. I’m supposed to be here helping bilingual kids” she noted. As a result, she decided to switch from biology to bilingual education. “I felt that if I did only math education” Beatriz shares, “a part of me would have not been fulfilled. I feel I could make a better impact on bilingual students.”
The PIONERAS scholarship she received in 2017, made possible by the support of the USDE’s Office of English Language Acquisition, allows Beatriz to take bilingual education courses in Spanish, do a practicum in local schools, collaborate with in-service teachers, and participate in a transnational teacher education program in Costa Rica. Referring to the courses in Spanish, she says: “It was so hard at first… I realized how much I needed to grow in my Spanish knowledge! But I’m so happy it happened… The courses have helped me see my identity more clearly… going through these courses makes me really proud of my background and everything that my parents have brought into. I feel that I’ve seen the struggles that they have gone through because I’ve visited where they are from… and I see where I am now”.
This spring and summer, Beatriz has been teaching students in an elementary and a middle school as part of her PIONERAS coursework on second language acquisition and English as a second language. “I feel these courses through PIONERAS have helped me to gain confidence to use my language skills and cultural background to assist bilingual children in their learning process”. She admits feeling intimidated at the beginning of this field experience, but recognizes how this has expanded her career interests: “I went into all this education thing thinking 6th grade math. That’s all I wanted to teach. And then going through all these experiences, especially now at Hodge (elementary school with bilingual program), I know I can teach pre-K and K and even 9th grade… and not only math! I know I can teach reading, writing, lectura… I’m now seeing the importance of reading, especially developing the habit at an early age. I can be an advocate for that and go teach Kindergarten!”
Beatriz advocates for bilingual education through middle school. This summer, she worked with a seventh grade school emergent bilingual student on Spanish reading lessons. She felt confident about what to do thanks to what she had learned in her courses: “I could tell that she [her student] really appreciated that, and that it really helped her… It’s so cool to see them light up”. Using the book Antes de Ser Libres, Beatriz worked with the student to identify the predictions and elaborate on them in Spanish. She agrees that, as a bilingual teacher, she can help emergent bilinguals build their language and academic knowledge from the foundation of their first language. Beatriz realizes that “it is with the Spanish that she already knew that she got her answer…” “If it had not been for the PIONERAS courses”, she mentions, “I don’t think I would have had the confidence to help out or the ability, the mindset to help out that seventh grader who was struggling.”
Beatriz attributes her increasing passion for bilingual education to her experience doing collaborative work with an in-service PIONERAS teacher. A visit to the home of a bilingual student in the area allowed her to create connections with her own background. Additionally, knowing that she could communicate with the student’s mother in her first language validated the use of her own heritage language for her profession and beyond the classroom: “It’s not only the kids who need me; it’s also the parents who need us to advocate for them because of that language barrier… So I need to go to a Title I school… I need to help the parents reach their dreams of seeing their kids succeed, just like my parents are seeing me succeed now.”
Beatriz is now working on her future goals. She would like to work in a Title I school and while doing that, wishes to go back to school to obtain a graduate degree in linguistics. “As a first generation college student, it is really cool to see my success, which happened thanks to my parents’ support, my willingness to become a professional woman and the PIONERAS project that helped me to improve my language and teaching skills. I feel a lot more confident as a person because I know who I am, that I am Latina and that it’s OK for me to be super proud of it. These courses have helped me find myself, you know?”
Page last updated 5:39 PM, November 20, 2020