Hispanic Heritage Month: “La Historia De Mi Gente”

This was crossposted by the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Hispanic Heritage Month: "La Historia De Mi Gente"

By: Amanda Zepeda

My first teachers were my parents. Both grew up in immigrant households in the vibrant city of Los Angeles. They were Chicano latch-key-kids of the 1970s. My father began working at a young age, supplementing the family’s income with a paper route before school and gardening work with my grandfather on the weekend. My mother loved reading and writing. She was always naturally good with numbers and words, which made her stand out in her classes. Both were quick-witted and capable, and yet neither of them were particularly pushed by their parents academically. As a defiant reaction to this, my parents made it a point to repeat phrases such as “Appreciate what you have”, “Pay attention in school”, and “You’re going to college!”. They made it their mission to ‘break the cycle’ and give us what they had not been given.

My dad eventually got a job right out of high school, and my mom made her way to a four-year university, encouraged to do so by her teachers. She dropped out before graduating, but eventually went back almost twenty years later to cross that stage. The experiences that they had helped to shape who they became and thus shaped how they decided to raise my siblings and me. They taught us the importance of family, to show compassion, to persevere, and most importantly, the value of education.

I believe education is the most valuable source of freedom a person can have. Throughout history, people have been imprisoned, punished, and castigated over knowledge. Thousands have fought to obtain it and others have fought to keep people from having it. Knowledge is our way to success; knowledge of our culture, knowledge of our people, and knowledge of our history.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I was surrounded by my Latino community. However, I did not always see myself or my community represented in school. We learned about Columbus, the California Missions, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and many other topics and yet the accomplishments of my communities were mysteriously missing from our textbooks and discussions. While those people and events are important to understand the complexity of United States history, they do not tell the complete story.

The first time I had a Latina teacher was the first time I had a teacher that spoke like me, looked like me, and had stories like mine. I did not have this experience until I was in community college. Before this, I had felt disconnected from my history, my family’s story, and myself for so long. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong. Sitting in my first Ethnic Studies class was the first time I learned about Native resistance against Europeans throughout North America, or about empowered Chicanas in the 1960s demanding social change, or about the intertwined history between the United States and Latin America. It was my history; my family’s story being told. A story of immigration, loss, trauma, love, strength, and perseverance. La historia de mi gente. I realized that this is what I wanted for the next generation. I didn’t want them to wait twenty years to hear their stories. I wanted them to see themselves reflected, acknowledged, and valued in their K-12 classes. So, I decided to continue what my parents had begun, to attempt to “break the cycle” of lack of education for as many kids as I could. I decided to become a teacher.

Celebrating Latino Heritage month to me means commemorating and acknowledging those that came before us. It means honoring our ancestors and sharing their powerful stories in and outside the classroom. Stories of community, of resistance, of love, of passion, of struggle and of achievement. Stories that we can learn from, that will bring us together, and make us stronger.

Amanda Zepeda is a second generation Chicana from the San Fernando Valley. She was a community college transfer student that graduated from San Francisco State University with a double major in History and Latina/o Studies and a minor is Race and Resistance. This is her second year as a high school educator teaching both Ethnic Studies and United States History and has been working within the education field for the past eight years.

Importance of Measuring Spanish Literacy Skills

This was crossposted from the Institute of Education Sciences blog, Inside IES Research.

The Latinx population comprises the second largest ethnic group in the US and has grown more than 600% since 1970. In states like California, Texas and New Mexico, nearly half of people are Latinx and almost one third are bilingual. States in the Northeast, Midwest, and South have also experienced double-digit growth in their Latinx populations since 2010. Millions of children all across the country are growing up in communities where both English and Spanish are spoken. In response to these trends, there has been a push to support and celebrate student bilingualism and biliteracy. Forty states and Washington, D.C. offer a State Seal of Biliteracy for students who achieve proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English and an additional language, most often Spanish. In this guest blog, Drs. Ashley Adams Sanabria, Amy Pratt, and Elizabeth Peña discuss the importance of measuring literacy skills in Spanish and their new IES-funded measurement project that aims to develop assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills.

Why is it important to measure literacy skills in Spanish?

In the IES practice guide for effective language and literacy instruction for English language learners, the first recommendation is to monitor children’s reading progress and use the data to make informed instructional decisions. Traditionally, this type of assessment has been conducted exclusively in English; however, we risk missing an important part of the constellation of skills that bilingual children possess when we do not assess their Spanish (or other first language) skills. Bilingual children’s language and literacy skills are often divided across both of their languages. Factors like exposure to Spanish versus English, preference for using Spanish versus English, and the language of formal reading instruction will affect a bilingual’s early literacy development. Measuring skills in only one language may make it appear that bilinguals are behind when in actuality, the assessment strategy has not captured the entirety of their skill set.

Furthermore, research shows that bilingual language profiles are dynamic and interact with the type of instruction children receive. Progress monitoring assessments in both languages allow teachers to track how children are progressing in different skills in each of their languages and can provide important information that will inform how teachers plan instruction for bilingual learners. As part of a new IES-funded measurement project, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego State University are developing the A2i-ALE (Adquisición de Lectura en Español) assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills. These new assessments will be computer adaptive and designed to be used alongside the existing Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) English assessments to monitor progress within and across school years for bilingual children in PreK through 3rd grade.

Which literacy skills should be measured in Spanish?

For our project, given we cannot measure everything, a key question we had to consider was which literacy skills to measure in Spanish. The Simple View of Reading holds that reading comprehension is the product of decoding skills and linguistic comprehension. Importantly, this framework can be applied to bilingual reading development, as well. Simply put, students must be able to decode written symbols into their spoken equivalent. But, we need to consider language differences. Languages with transparent orthographies and simple phonological structure, like Spanish, are easier to segment into their component sounds because there is a near 1-to-1 mapping between letters and sounds compared to English which has complex letter-sound mappings.

Once decoded, students must then apply their language skills (for example, vocabulary, knowledge of syntactic structures, background knowledge) to understand the meaning of the text they have just decoded. The Simple View of Reading has important implications for literacy instruction: (a) effective early reading instruction should develop skills in both decoding and language comprehension, and (b) given that these two domains develop relatively independently, reading comprehension outcomes will be enhanced by differentiating the amount of instructional time devoted to each of the two domains depending on individual learners’ skill level in each area.

Applying the Simple View of Reading to improve reading instruction for bilingual learners requires that teachers have valid, reliable information about decoding skills and language comprehension skills in all of their languages and use the information in planning and implementing reading instruction.

What’s next?

In our IES-funded study, we plan to develop A2i Spanish measures that will be designed to (a) describe each bilingual’s unique literacy skill profile in terms of their Spanish language, comprehension, and decoding skills, and (b) monitor children’s Spanish language and reading growth within and across school years. The goal is to inform Spanish language instructional decisions in dual language programs (that is, children demonstrating weaknesses in Spanish word reading or vocabulary could get more Spanish instructional time in those areas), as well as inform literacy instruction for bilingual children in English-only classrooms building on what is known about cross-language transfer.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and hereshowcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog serieswe are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Ashley Adams Sanabria is an assistant professor at San Diego State University in the School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences.

Amy S. Pratt is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education

Elizabeth D. Peña is an associate dean of faculty development and diversity at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

Disrupting the Status Quo to Support Latino Students from Immigrant Families

This post was crossposted from the Institute of Education Sciences blog, Inside IES Research.

Driven in part by massive demographic shifts in the U.S. population, education and social behavioral research has increasingly attended to the growing diversity of the student population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for more than 50% of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s white population is shrinking, the Latino population grew by 23% in the last decade and now makes up almost 19% of the U.S. population. Although the raw numbers are worthy of attention, the change rate—and what it means for how schools and other systems serve students—may be even more important, especially given that the K12 education system is not built to accommodate such rapid demographic shifts.

Charles Martinez in a suit with an orange tie.

NCES data show that, although there has been overall progress in improving high school graduation rates, the nation’s Latino student dropout rate is 65% higher than White students and almost 40% higher than Black students. Only 20% of Latinos aged 25 to 29 have obtained a college degree—the lowest degree attainment rate of any racial/ethnic subgroup. Growing evidence shows that the disparities in college participation among Latino and first-generation college students may become even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Since 2015, with the support of two IES-funded NCER grants, my team of colleagues and I have led work designed to challenge and innovate how schools support the positive development and college access and success for Latino students from immigrant families. Our Juntos Project was designed to create a new intervention model working directly with teachers, school leaders, and parents of Latino middle school students. The goal of the project was to address common challenges confronting immigrant families as they navigate the U.S. education system, to use effective strategies for recognizing and transforming teacher bias, and to create a school climate that centers equity leadership and builds authentic family-school partnerships—all with the promise to improve academic and school success for Latino students. The second project, Project LEAPS (Latino Education After Public School), which is currently underway, extends the model we developed in Juntos by working with teachers, parents, and school counselors to support the postsecondary readiness (and ultimately the college access and success) of Latino students as they transition from middle school to high school.

Through this work, we continue to learn important lessons about how to be disruptive given that current approaches have too often failed to make a lasting impact on nurturing the academic success and positive behavioral health of Latino students. Here are a few of those lessons:

Parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life. As much as education researchers and professionals attend to the role educators play in student life, our approach is designed to capitalize on the strengths of Latino families and the deep cultural value of familismo, which prioritizes dedication, connectedness, and loyalty to family, as essential targets of our intervention. Notwithstanding the influence of adult agents inside the education system, parents (that is, all of the adults in a child’s life who play a major role in raising them) play the most important and sustained role in raising healthy children. Although the education system frequently frames parents and home environments as “the problem” when considering the challenges of underserved students, data from the NCES National Household Education Survey show that parents of students of color are as likely or more likely to be engaged in their children’s education (for example, checking on homework completion, monitoring school performance) than their white peers. This is especially true for Latino parents, including those who are Spanish speaking and those who have low educational attainment themselves.

Move from a deficit framing to an asset framing. Undoubtedly, many Latino students and their families experience challenges as they navigate the education system. However, many of these challenges are not of their making. The fact that we can mark disparities in educational outcomes and access to higher education by race/ethnicity, poverty, rurality and other factors should be a source of outrage. None of these demographic characteristics should be correlated with school success or can legitimately be described as causal. The true causes stem from deeply rooted inequities embedded in the education system. One way to shift away from a student or family deficit framing is to focus on a more interesting question: What makes students, families, schools, and communities thrive in the face of difficult circumstances? The answers to this question can help us leverage assets that too often go untapped in service of student success.

Attend to within-group variation. Like other racial/ethnic groups, Latinos are not monolithic. Comparative designs in which outcomes for Latino students are contrasted with White students or students from other groups often contribute little to nuanced understandings about how variables linked to these group identifications might explain differences in outcomes. Ample research shows that within-group variation among Latinos on factors such as country of origin, nativity, generational history, language, time in U.S. residency, context of reception for immigrants, and acculturation level are more important in understanding the nature of risk and protection around academic and social behavioral adjustment than are between-group differences. In designing intervention programs for the families and students we serve, our goals are to understand these sources of variation and carefully attend to them in our development work.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and hereshowcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog serieswe are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Charles Martinez (@c_martinez) is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and the founding director of the Texas Center for Equity Promotion. He is a first-generation college graduate and a third-generation Mexican American. His Project LEAPS co-investigators are Heather McClure, University of Oregon, and Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, University of Texas at Austin.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Research Roundup: NCES Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

This post was crossposted from the National Center for Education Statistics blog.

Breaking down data by race and ethnicity can provide a better understanding of education performance and outcomes than examining statistics representative of all students. In observation of Hispanic Heritage Month, this blog presents NCES findings on the learning experiences of Hispanic students throughout their education careers.

Early Childhood Education

  • In 2019, 43 percent of Hispanic 3- to 4-year-olds and 86 percent of Hispanic 5-year-olds were enrolled in school.


K12 Education

  • Between 2009 and 2018, the percentage of students enrolled in public schools who were Hispanic increased from 22 to 27 percent.

  • In school year 2018–19, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) was 82 percent for Hispanic public school students. The ACGRs for Hispanic students ranged from 60 percent in the District of Columbia to 91 percent in Alabama and West Virginia.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, the percentage of Hispanic 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school increased by more than 20 percentage points, from 69 to 90 percent.


Postsecondary Education

  • In 2007, postsecondary enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed 2.0 million for the first time in history. In 2012, enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed enrollment of Black students, making Hispanic students the largest minority population enrolled in postsecondary education.

  • Between fall 2009 and fall 2019, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment increased by 48 percent (from 2.4 million to 3.5 million students).

  • In 2017–18, there were 99,718 bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students at Hispanic-serving institutions, which have a full-time undergraduate enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.

  • In academic year 2018–19, 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees conferred to Hispanic graduates were in a STEM field.
  • About 58 percent of Hispanic students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree full-time at a 4-year institution in fall 2013 completed that degree at the same institution within 6 years.


By Mandy Dean, AIR

Developing Research Training Programs (Part 1): Advice from IES-funded Hispanic Serving Institutions

This blog was crossposted from the Institute for Education Sciences blog, Inside IES Research.

This blog post featuring advice from IES-funded Hispanic Serving Institutions on developing research training programs, is part of an ongoing series featuring IES training programs as well as our blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within IES grant programs

In 2015, IES launched the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program to encourage undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and master’s students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in education research. The Pathways program grants were made to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and their partners to provide one year of mentored research training. We asked the leadership teams from our six initial Pathways Programs to share their lessons learned on establishing research training programs. In part one of this blog, we share the lessons learned from the Pathways programs based at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). In part two, we share lessons learned from the Pathways programs based at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and their partner institutions.

Pathways: Successful Transitions to and Through Higher Education

California State University, Sacramento (HSI, AANAPISI)

Leadership: Jana Noel, Timothy Fong, Jacqueline Brooks, Erica Zamora

We have five areas for universities to consider that wish to develop undergraduate training programs:

Create an interdisciplinary training team. Draw on the strengths of the wide range of researchers on your campus and beyond. An interdisciplinary team provides an expanded range of perspectives on both the research methods and the questions that are important to pursue within education. All are important and valuable to the expansion of research that will make a difference to the lives of underrepresented students.

Develop partnerships. Develop partnerships across departments and colleges as well as in the community. Our apprenticeship sites span the university and into the community and include university research centers and institutes, K-12 offices of education, and non-profit public policy centers. Apprenticeship partnerships provide fellows with the opportunity to be part of a team that actively conducts research into pressing educational issues and contributes to the research needed to make practice and policy decisions within your region and state.

Intentionally match mentors to fellows. As much as possible, match the fellows’ diversity when selecting research mentors. Mentors provide support on learning new research methodology, asking new questions, working as a team, preparing to present research at conferences, and preparing for graduate school.

Choose a broad research theme. Choose a broad research theme that will appeal to a wide range of students. In our case, we study the barriers and supports for underrepresented students in K-12, community college, and higher education. This allows underrepresented students at MSIs to know that they are welcome in the program and that their experiences and voices will be valued.

Provide continuity across cohorts. Fellows in our program speak at recruiting events for future cohorts, participate in panel discussions for future cohorts, and truly serve as our best source of encouragement for future fellows. The continuity persists during and beyond the program as fellows engage in their academic journeys together.

AWARDSS Training Program

University of Arizona (HSI)/College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Arizona

Leadership: Michelle Perfect, Brandy Perkl, Sara Chavarria, Andrew Heurta

Our number one piece of advice for establishing undergraduate research training programs is to add in bridges over the biggest barriers to URM participation.

Our Pathways program (AWARDSS) was built on the idea that (1) support from campus programs and (2) intentional mentoring are vital aspects of promoting participation in research from traditionally underrepresented students. For that reason, we have learned that undergraduate research training programs within MSIs need to build on what is already present. Add in the elements you know your students need most, such as financial support, increased access to resources, and focus on improvement of specific skills.

To achieve this in our practice, we built a complementary, hybrid, add-on program to the University of Arizona’s well-established and award-winning Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium (UROC) experiences. UROC provides the primary coursework and faculty, while we deliver the add-ons that allow for underrepresented minority (URM) student participation. We focused initially on providing additional funding for our students’ experiences. Then, we added a required inclusion-oriented mentor training to bolster the intentionality of those relationships and the quality of this potentially transformative relationship. This often allows us to support underrepresented mentors, as well. Mentoring does not occur in a vacuum though, and the latest research shows that those with a developmental network outperform those without one. Thus, we staffed the program specifically to serve as a supportive developmental network for our students. Finally, we assessed and trained students in academic areas of need (for example, statistics) at both the cohort and individual levels.

We also suggest that leaders of undergraduate research training programs continuously examine their practices and adjust their models accordingly. We plan to further train our staff in more inclusive and anti-racist practices ensuring that the entire AWARDSS network is informed, intentional, and engaged in supportive practices from day one.

Pathways Program

University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA; HSI)

Leadership: Guadalupe Carmona, Ann Marie Ryan, Francesca Bronder

Our goals for the program are to 1) broaden participation of undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds in doctoral study, and 2) develop a pipeline of talented interdisciplinary researchers who bring fresh ideas, approaches, and perspectives to addressing the challenges of inequalities that exist in P-20 educational experiences, transitions, and outcomes.

Through a structured program design, undergraduates can be exposed to research at an early academic stage and discover that through academic and scientific research, they can achieve their passion to systematically improve education and transform their local communities. By learning how research is conducted, closely working with faculty mentors, finding their own research focus, and developing their work, our UTSA Pathways Fellows have gained in academic and personal development, self-confidence, a sense of accomplishment and peer support, independence of work and thought, and have become more academically resilient. For many of them, UTSA Pathways has opened doors and facilitated access to several graduate schools. For others, it has helped them apply their newly acquired research skills to a variety of professional fields and become more marketable in their chosen careers.

We identified three central concepts for UTSA Pathways that we think would be helpful for others who are developing undergraduate research training programs: EmpowermentTransformation, and Inspiration.

  • Empowerment. Once unheard student voices are now becoming part of our education research community as fellows actively participate in academic and research activities. Your program should empower students to form their own identities as fellows and help to extend this empowerment to their personal lives.
  • Transformation. Our Pathways program has generated change in multiple communities, built new collaborations, recruited new faculty, and obtained supporters devoted to Pathways and its goals of broadening participation of historically underrepresented voices. We suggest that your program identify the critical partners and potential levers of change specific to your program’s model and goals.
  • Inspiration. We have found that our fellows’ resilience and commitment has been channeled through their active engagement and dissemination of their research that, for most, begins with UTSA Pathways. And our mentors’ passion and generosity has guided and supported a new generation of scholars in educational research. We encourage you to create an environment of hospitality and engagement that will embrace a passionate group of young scholars to participate in their communities of research and practice.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program and the new Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions, the two IES training programs for minority serving institutions.  

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Natalie A. Morales

Natalie Morales

Natalie A. Morales, EdD

Science High School Teacher in Newburgh, NY

Dr. Morales has spent fourteen years teaching Biology and more recently, Human Anatomy and Physiology, at Newburgh Free Academy, where she began her teaching career as a student teacher. In addition to teaching, she has spent time aligning her course curricula and developing new curricula for a course integrating science and technology. Dr. Morales has been selected to participate in numerous building level and union committees and trainings. She has served as a turnkey trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, classroom management skills, and the Common Core State Standards within her school. Dr. Morales recently began mentoring student teams conducting independent research utilizing network science as part of the Newburgh Free Academy’s NetSci High research program in affiliation with West Point’s Network Science Center. She is currently serving on Newburgh Free Academy’s High School Steering Committee which has been tasked with researching and developing an implementation plan for the creation of two independent high schools.

Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the State University of New York at New Paltz which earned her certification as a 7-12 Biology/General Science teacher. She returned to the State University of New York at New Paltz to earn her Master’s of Science in Education in Literacy Education which granted her Literacy Certifications in grades Birth-5 and 6-12. Dr. Morales also earned a professional degree for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Educational Administration which allowed to become certified as a School Administrator and Supervisor and a School District Administrator. She recently completed her Doctorate in Education in Instructional Leadership at Western Connecticut State University where she conducted a study comparing high school students’ and their teachers’ perceptions of factors affecting academic achievement and underachievement.

Dr. Morales was selected to the Class of 2013-2014 as a Phi Delta Kappa International Emergent Leader. As a PDK Emergent Leader, she served as the teacher advisory committee member, in Washington, DC, for the 2014 PDK Gallup Poll and reviewed applications for Phi Delta Kappa International’s Duncan Scholarship awarded to graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees. Her Ed Profile was also featured in PDK’s Kappan magazine. Dr. Morales was also designated a New York State Master Teacher in STEM. She was one of twenty-six STEM teachers in Mid-Hudson, NY selected to into the first cohort of Master STEM teachers in New York State where she will be spending the next four years working towards the improving the integration of STEM and STEM careers within the classroom.

Dr. Morales is an active member within the New York State United Teachers union and Newburgh Teachers Association where she served was a former head delegate and is a current delegate of Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. She also serves as a delegate representing the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Teachers at the New York State Teacher Retirement System Delegate meetings. Dr. Morales is also a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Phi Delta Kappa.

Why do I teach? I teach because I have a heart for and towards my students.. I teach because I want to pass on all that I know to those who will listen both in and out of the classroom so that they, too, can become more informed and educated.

What do you love about teaching? I love to see my students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy blossom and grow over the course of the year as they acquire and apply their biological knowledge to real world applications.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, exuded heart and passion when she taught which allowed for a positive teacher-student relationship to develop grounded in motivation and care.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Silvia R. Macdonald

Silvia R. Macdonald

Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald

Elementary ESOL Teacher in Clarksburg, MD

Silvia Macdonald is an accomplished teacher and leader driven by her own experiences as a minority student to teach current youths. Of Cuban and Spanish descent, Silvia has relied on her personal experiences to provide opportunities for the success and advocacy of Hispanic children and English Language Learners.  Her daily goal is to make a difference in the lives of the children she teaches and the community by affecting a positive change. Silvia transitioned into the educational field in 2005 after working as a real estate agent. It was in this career that Silvia noticed the difficulty of educating first-time homebuyers who were Hispanic and had difficulty with English. Deciding she could better serve the community as an English instructor, Silvia has served as the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at Lois P. Rockwell Elementary School since 2005. Silvia has also served as a member of Rockwell Elementary School’s Instructional Leadership Team, co-chair of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Professional Learning Community (PLC), co-chair of the Reading and Writing PLC, and leads the ESOL and Academic Support teams. She has also chaired the Montgomery County Education Association’s ESOL Labor Management Collaborative Committee.  Silvia is an active member of the Elementary Council for Teaching and Learning and serves on the Council’s Cultural Competency and Equity sub-committee.  In 2012, Silvia was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? My passion for teaching is driven by my amazement of how children grow, develop, and learn.  Over time, children’s experiences impact their learning and their future.  My desire is to help bring equity to their learning experience and impress upon each child that they can be and do anything they want as long as they make the effort to be successful in their achievements.  Every child’s first teachers are their parents.  For some, they may face many challenges.  I hope that I can be a teacher of inspiration to all of my students and my children, just as my mother was to me.  As a divorced mother, she was my first teacher.  Although we faced many challenges, she always instilled in me that my education was important and that it was my education and my efforts that were going to help me achieve great success.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens

Bobbi Houtchens

Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens

San Bernardino, CA

Bobbi has had a long and storied career as an educator and finally retired after 40 years of teaching English and English language development.  She currently lives in Los Angeles works as a consultant to support teachers who have English learners in their classrooms. Before her retirement, Bobbi worked in a variety of classrooms, from traditional to migrant labor camps. She also worked with educators in Oaxaca, Mexico. Bobbi’s formal academic training consisted of earning a B.A. and Licenciado from Elbert Covell College at the University of the Pacific, completing the requirements for three majors: Latin American Politics, Teaching English as a Second Language, and Spanish. Bobbi also earned a M.A. in Bilingual/Bicultural Literacy from California State University San Bernardino. Her inspiration comes from the stories of her immigrant mother, who often suffered great cruelties such as being sprayed by school nurses with insecticide for simply being an immigrant unable to speak English. Bobbi has also worked as a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow in the Office of English Language Acquisition.

Why do you teach? I have always felt compelled to teach in order to make the world a better place, even if it is just for one student at a time.  I started when I was very young, bribing  neighborhood kids with candy to come to “school” in my backyard, and I haven’t stopped since!  A large part of my motivation was to make sure that the horrible things that happened to my mother in school never happened to other students.

What do you love about teaching? It’s difficult to list all that I love about teaching.  I love the sound of “aaaahhh” when students finally get something they have been struggling with.  I love the connection I get with students and their families, the satisfaction on their faces when they accomplish what they believed was impossible and knowing that I had a part in that satisfaction.  I especially love hearing from students years after they have been in my classes and having them tell me that my words still ring in their ears, especially when life is tough.  I still continue to inspire them somehow.  That is priceless and gives my life meaning!!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?  I had two teachers who inspired me:  Mrs. Bose in second and third grades, who turned me into a reader and writer.  She loved me and believed I was going to be a great writer.  Mr. Winsor, my high school Spanish teacher, who also loved me and believed that I was going to do something great some day and that I could do it better if I was fluent in Spanish.  They were both tough, demanding, dedicated teachers.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Jose Rodríguez


Jose Rodríguez

Leander, Texas

Rodríguez currently teaches ESL at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Leander, Texas. After completing his undergraduate education at Pan American University and receiving an Honorable Discharge from the United States Marine Corps, Rodríguez began his professional work as urban planner at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in South Texas. He later received his alternative teaching certification and began teaching in the Weslaco School District. Rodríguez taught 3rd and 4th grades at Cleckler-Heald Elementary before moving to Beatriz Garza Middle School where he taught 6th grade and 8th grade. In 2009, Rodriguez was invited by the U.S. Department of Education to serve as Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow for one-year at ED Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The personal achievements of Rodriguez include an invitation by the U.S. Department of Education to serve as Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow for one-year at ED Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 2001, Rodríguez received Weslaco Schools’ District Teacher of the Year Award and the Outstanding Educator of the Year award from the League of United Latin American Citizens.In 2002, he was selected as a nominee for Region One’s Teacher of the Year in Texas. Rodríguez also contributed to the Middle Childhood Generalist Standards 3rd Edition, published in 2012 by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In 2011, Rodriguez transported a twelve-foot oak tree from Austin to D.C. (over 1,500 miles) and planted it on the grounds of the Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building in southwest Washington, D.C.; the tree serves as the official tree of the U.S. Department of Education.

Why do you teach? I teach because I enjoy working with young students. Their spirit keep me young and they teach me how to find wonder in the world.

What do you love about teaching? For the past 20 years, I have taught ELL students in grades Pk-8th grade. Many of these students were recent ELL immigrants from Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, South Korea, Jordan, and Lithuania. These same former students have gone on to graduate from university. They are now starting their careers and families. I love to teach because my students remind me of my family’s immigrant past and our nation’s collective immigrant family’s future in the United States; I love to teach because I am teaching the future of the United States.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? When I was a freshman in high school, I was inspired by a former Vietnam Veteran, Mark Brady, my world history teacher. I enjoyed being his student because he was a dynamic, interactive teacher that encouraged project-based learning long before this was an approach to teaching even before it had a name or on most educators’ radar in the early 1980s. More importantly, Mr. Brady encouraged us to think and questioned our thinking deliberately with respect, humor, and sincerity. I try to imitate Mr. Brady’s style of teaching everyday as a teacher.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Sylvia Padilla


Sylvia Padilla

4th Grade Bilingual Teacher in Long Beach, CA

Sylvia Padilla has been a bilingual teacher at Patrick Henry K-8 School in the Long Beach Unified District since 1991.  In 1989,  she was part of a parent grass roots group that pioneered  program at Patrick Henry meant to put bilingual students on equal footing with  their peers, helping them achieve academically as well as value their cultural heritage. The start of Patrick Henry’s Two Way Bilingual Immersion Program began with sixty kindergarten and first grade students, and today has grown to a school-wide k-8 program of over 700 students.  Señora Padilla now teaches fourth grade.  She has been awarded Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year and The California Association of Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year for collaborating at the school, district and state level to improve instruction, implementation and assessment of state standards in English and Spanish.  Sylvia earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s in elementary education-reading and language arts from California State University Long Beach.  In 2012, Sylvia was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I love to learn.  I teach with my heart, understanding that every child who crosses my path is important.  Every student  must be given the opportunity to reach their potential.

What I love about being a teacher is that I get to listen to students’ thinking.  My favorite saying is “Cada cabeza es un mundo”. “Each head is a world of its own”. Every child brings in knowledge that is to be shared and respected.  My role is to guide them, but every single one of my students is a teacher in my classroom.

What do you love about teaching?

I was inspired to be a teacher because I had hard-working parents who instilled in me the importance of education.  My parents did not have the opportunities we have in this great nation.  They instilled in all my brothers and sister a sense of pride in our Mexican heritage, as well as the importance of hard work. If we worked hard, we would be able to reach our dreams.  I tell my students every day that I am happy to see them, because I am living my dream.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I also had tough and caring teachers who made me work hard.  I will never forget Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, who taught me English at Van Nuys Jr. High School.  They encouraged me to improve and move into mainstream programs quickly.  In Van Nuys High School, the special education teacher, Marc Stephens took the time to encourage many of us to strive for a college education.  He started the ballet folklorico club and took any of us who were interested to see university campuses.  Many of us continued our studies and among us are teachers, school administrators, and college presidents.  Thanks to this man, who took the time to encourage me and even got my sister and I our first jobs as college aides, I continued to dream.

Yet the person who truly helped me the most was my husband.  He was a teacher, and when I married him, he became my support.  I attended school at night because I was a young mother.  My husband Rogelio would take over parenting duties so that I could reach my dream.  The day after I had our first daughter, along with the car seat, he also brought a letter from Long Beach State and told me I could now transfer and pursue my dream.  That kind of support and belief gave me the strength to never give up.  It took seven more years to finally have my own classroom.


I am truly living my dream every day!