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Dual Language Teacher of the Month – Angela Palmieri

Dual language teacher of the month - Angela Palmieri with her class

Dual Language Teacher of the Month – Angela Palmieri

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When DualLanguageSchools.org first stumbled upon Dual Language Immersion Teacher Angela Palmieri, it was at the 2016 La Cosecha Dual Language Conference in New Mexico. She was presenting her Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching research on the integration of cultural pedagogical practices in Spanish dual language immersion programs based on Maori-medium cultural pedagogical practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which continues fueling her passion for dual language immersion and bilingual education.

Prior to Angela’s acceptance of our request to catch a glimpse of her stimulating class at John Muir Elementary School of Glendale, California, little did we realize how strongly the sense of togetherness existed. The energy in the room felt organized and respectful yet full of vibrant personality. Her walls were filled with vibrant portraits, descriptive essays and neatly prepared math assignments while book shelves swelled with reading materials for Angela’s fifth graders.

Whether you are considering a career in education or trying to figure out how to help students see the value of culture in dual language immersion programs, Angela Palmieri’s journey as a dual language immersion teacher and culture enthusiast will prove why she is DualLanguageSchools.org’s Teacher of the Month for January 2017.

How long have you been involved in education?

I've been a teacher for sixteen years and I've been a Spanish dual language immersion teacher for the last nine years. Prior to teaching dual language immersion, I taught English-immersion classes. I have taught in Los Angeles, Detroit and in San Francisco.

What was your biggest influence in becoming an educator?

I became a teacher very young. By the time I was twenty-two years old, I was already teaching. I began working with children when I was in AmeriCorps National Service (Tell Me a Story) at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Glendale when I was nineteen years old. That's where I fell in love with teaching and working with kids. I tutored children during the day and taught them literacy through drama in the afternoon. While I was in Americorps, I started my credential program at California State University Los Angeles. I acquired my bachelor’s in Urban Learning Education, as well as my multiple subject credential in 2001, and I obtained my first master's degree in Reading and Language Arts Instruction from California State University Los Angeles in 2003. In 2013, I obtained my second master’s degree in educational administration from the Principal Leadership Institute at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The Principal Leadership Institute gave me the skills to be a school leader who is defined by the determination to address social justice and inequality in schools. It is through the Principal Leadership Institute that I learned to look at bilingual education through a social justice lens and to define myself as a change agent in the field of bilingual education.

How did you arrive at John Muir Elementary?

When I lived in San Francisco, I worked as a kindergarten Spanish dual language immersion teacher at Daniel Webster Elementary School in Potrero Hill. One day, my sister sent me an email with a link to Glendale Unified School District’s dual language immersion programs. Glendale Unified School District’s Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG) offer seven languages of instruction (Korean, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Armenian, Japanese) through dual language education. When my sister sent me the email, I thought she sent it for me to apply so I could move back to Los Angeles, but she was actually looking for advice so she could enroll my nephew in the program. That decision to apply to Glendale Unified School District changed my life because I was hired to be the co-founding teacher of John Muir Elementary School’s Spanish dual language immersion program, which is what has led me to truly dedicate my life to dual language immersion and to apply to programs such as the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching to further my knowledge of bilingual education.

Angela Palmieri’s 5th grade Spanish dual language immersion students on a field trip
Angela Palmieri’s 5th grade Spanish dual language immersion students on a field trip at the Latin American Museum of Art in Long Beach.

One of my goals is to further my education by acquiring a doctorate in bilingual education so I can continue to be a leader in this field. Bilingual education has its roots in social justice and equity, with the ultimate goal being to offer all students a multilingual education. Bilingual education teachers strive to go against the English-only sentiment in historically monolingual countries, such as the United States- we are advocates and activists, fighting for multilingualism and native/heritage language proficiency for all students.

What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

My favorite part of being a teacher is being able to work with my students, and to instill in them a sense of self, confidence and a knowledge of who they are culturally, academically, socially and personally. I love my kids. I like to teach my kids not only academics, but also about their communities and society as a whole. My students’ families, my students and I are a family, we care deeply about each other, and we have an environment that reinforces these values in everything that we do. 

The first step to teaching and reinforcing culture in the classroom is acknowledging, validating and celebrating the cultures of both the students and the teacher.

I love being a Spanish dual language immersion teacher. I am proud of the fact that I am teaching in Spanish, a language that students were prohibited from speaking not too long ago in schools. I am proud to advocate for the teaching of multiple languages starting at the elementary level, if not younger. I am proud that I teach my students, especially my Latino students, to be proud of who they are and where they come from, that they can succeed in anything that they set their minds to, that they can and will live the best versions of themselves.

Have you ever facilitated trainings of your own?

Yes! I have facilitated trainings since I became a reading specialist in 2003. I graduated with my first master’s degree in education, specifically reading and language arts education, from California State University Los Angeles, in 2003. I provided trainings to teachers on reading and language arts instructional strategies during and after the program. I have facilitated many trainings since then, but the most recent trainings I am facilitating are based on my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching research on Maori-medium cultural pedagogical practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand. My Fulbright research can be found on my website aotearoatospanish.wordpress.com:  Maori-to-Español: A Cultural Pedagogy Site for Spanish Bilingual Educators. I recently presented my research at La Cosecha in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I will also be presenting at the the UCLA Open Door Series in April. I have just recently applied to present my research at the ACTFL conference in Tennessee, November 2017.

How else have you shared your research?

Just recently I presented my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching research process (or how I went about choosing what research I wanted to conduct in New Zealand) to one hundred visiting Fulbright educators from Argentina at UCLA. My goal is to share my research with as many educators as possible so that bilingual education programs begin to authentically integrate cultural practices into their curricula and to educate as many bilingual educators in this research area. I have also shared my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching research project on social media as well, so that educators from all over the world can access the information on my website.

Angela Palmieri reading a book to her kindergarten Spanish dual language immersion students.
Angela Palmieri reading a book to her kindergarten Spanish dual language immersion students.

What did you bring from the research into your classroom?

The premise of my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching research is that language and culture are inextricably connected and that cultural pedagogy must be methodically integrated into the curricula of dual language immersion programs in the United States. Teaching language cannot be separated from the teaching of culture, they must be taught concurrently. Many dual language immersion programs tend to separate language from culture, and the programs tend to teach the language of instruction without exposing the kids on a daily basis to the culture that goes with the language. If we do not connect culture with the learning of the language, what will motivate our students to want to learn Spanish (for example) for the rest of their lives? They will not become invested in furthering their language development if we do not start incorporating the cultural piece into dual language immersion programs.

If we do not connect culture with the learning of the language, what will motivate our students to want to learn Spanish (for example) for the rest of their lives?

I started teaching fifth grade dual language immersion this year—after teaching kindergarten for the last eight years—and it has been quite exciting to integrate what I learned in New Zealand in my classroom. Almost everything we do in class has an added cultural premise. For example, I like to choose art and literature that reflect some aspect of the Latino culture. The last book we read as a class (in Spanish) is Yo, Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan, a book about a little girl who goes on a journey to Oaxaca, Mexico, to find her father and to learn more about who she is culturally. It is important to me to integrate the Latino culture(s) as much as I can into our daily lessons so students have a strong connection with both the Spanish language and the culture(s).

What do you use in your classroom to reinforce culture in your classroom?

The first step to teaching and reinforcing culture in the classroom is acknowledging, validating and celebrating the cultures of both the students and the teacher. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela to Italian immigrant parents. I share my culture(s) with my students and I talk to them about my life, what it was like for my family and I to immigrate to the United States, and I share the pride that I feel for my cultural background with my students. Along with sharing my own culture, my students share theirs as well. The theme of cultural identity is quite strong in my classroom, because I believe that when children know about their culture and where they come from, they will not only know where they are going in their lives, but they will be open to learning about other cultures as well.

Angela Palmieri celebrating Día de los Muertos as Frida Kahlo.
Angela Palmieri celebrating Día de los Muertos as Frida Kahlo.

Whenever I plan the themes that I teach, I integrate the Latino/Spanish culture(s) in some way. In Spanish dual language immersion programs, teachers must expose students to the cultures of the twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries, including indigenous cultures, Afro-Latino cultures, and the other cultures that make up the cultural identity of these countries. We also have a responsibility, as educators, to integrate the students’ cultures into the curricula, through culturally responsive pedagogy.

I integrate culture into my lessons in many ways. One example is when I was teaching my students to write biographies- I integrated an art theme on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. We not only read and wrote about these artists, but we also replicated their art.  

Another example of how I reinforce culture is giving each one of my students a song notebook. Every week, I choose a different song from one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries (including indigenous songs) and we learn the song as a class. The students place the songs in their notebooks. By the end of the year, the students will have over 50-75 songs in their notebooks. I also teach my students songs from important Latin American artists. For example, when Juan Gabriel passed away, we spent a week singing his songs in class. I will also choose LA-based bands that sing about social justice and issues that affect the Latino community. My students love Las Cafeteras and La Santa Cecilia. They ask me to play their songs and they sing them with pride. My students may relate to many of the songs’ themes, such as immigration and injustice. Integrating important music from Latin America every day has allowed my students to feel more connected to the culture and this stronger connection has caused them to want to speak Spanish more often and to keep to our class’ language rules, which is to only speak English during English instruction and only Spanish during Spanish instruction.

There are many ways that I integrate culture into my daily lessons, but these are just a few examples. I would love to have an opportunity to meet with other dual language immersion educators so that we can share our cultural pedagogical practices with one another.  

What does biliteracy mean to you?

The goal of our program is for our students to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. Biliteracy to me means that my students, by the time they graduate high school, will be able to fluently speak, understand, write and read in Spanish, not only conversationally but academically. My students will have the option of studying in any Spanish-speaking country because they will have learned the academic Spanish necessary to be able to access advanced texts and academic conversations. My goal for my students is also for them to be bicultural, which to me also means that they have a strong understanding of the Latino culture(s). I always teach my students that learning a language means having a “key” to the culture.

…what makes someone want to learn a language, aside from the cognitive and professional benefits, is a desire to connect to a culture and its people using the language.

Many dual language programs tend to struggle with the integration of cultural practices. Developing biculturalism in dual language immersion programs can be complex because teachers often solely focus on academics. However, what we must understand is that what makes someone want to learn a language, aside from the cognitive and professional benefits, is a desire to connect to a culture and its people using the language. Language and culture cannot be separated. Biliteracy and biculturalism, therefore, are inextricably connected and, in my opinion, one cannot truly exist without the other.

How have the values of bilingualism, biliteracy and biculturalism evolved in your school?

Our Spanish dual language immersion program was founded in 2011 by myself and by my partner teacher and close friend, Marylou Escobar, under the guidance of Dr. Linda Junge, the principal of our school at the time. Marylou and I have always seen ourselves as the founding teachers, always taking great pride in our program and working hard to make sure that it was successful. We have helped hire our dual language immersion teachers throughout the years and we all slowly started creating our program from the ground up together as a team. Next school year we will be adding sixth grade to our program, which will finally complete our team.

John Muir Elementary School’s Spanish dual language immersion teacher team.
John Muir Elementary School’s Spanish dual language immersion teacher team. From left to right, starting at the top row: Paola Reyes (2nd grade Spanish), Angela Palmieri (5th grade Spanish), Valentina Martin Del Campo (3rd grade Spanish), Melissa Soto (1st grade Spanish), Mario Garcia (4th grade Spanish), Marylou Escobar (kindergarten Spanish), Ana Torres (3rd grade Spanish), Nancy Garza (2nd grade Spanish), Rafael Ortiz (kindergarten Spanish), Lorena Flamenco (TK Spanish), Diana Echeverria (1st grade Spanish)

We have a very strong dual language immersion team. All of the teachers are highly qualified and have a strong dedication to our program. There are eleven of us and all of us have the same goal and mission for our dual language immersion program. Each one of us is committed to the success of our program. We meet as a dual language immersion team every month in order to discuss the needs of our program. Our program is teacher-led, we know what we want for our program and we do what must be done to make our program successful. I am proud to work with such outstanding and dedicated teachers. I would like to introduce the team as well, since I have learned just as much from each and every one of them as they have from me. We are a united team, and when one of us gets recognized for our work, it is important to validate the rest of the team’s work as well, since our dual language immersion program would not where it is if it were not for each teacher that makes up our dual language immersion team. It is an honor for me to introduce the other members of John Muir Elementary School’s dual language immersion team:

Maria Lorena Flamenco, our transitional kindergarten dual language immersion teacher. Marylou Escobar and Rafael Ortiz make up our kindergarten dual language immersion team. Melissa Soto and Diana Echeverria make up our first grade dual language immersion team. Nancy Garza and Paola Reyes make up our second grade dual language immersion team. Valentina Martin Del Campo and Ana Torres make up our third grade dual language immersion team. Mario Garcia is our fourth grade dual language immersion teacher. Angela Palmieri is our fifth grade dual language immersion teacher.

Our team works together to ensure that our students become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural in Spanish. We analyze authentic data, we discuss how to assess our students’ oral language development, we plan cultural events for our students, and we work diligently to define what biliteracy, biculturalism and bilingualism means to our program. These concepts are continually changing, especially as all of us grow as dual language immersion educators. We are proud of the work that we are doing at John Muir Elementary School as Spanish dual language immersion teachers, we love our students, and we will continue to work endlessly so our students receive the best bilingual, bicultural and biliterate education possible.

Click here to access Maori-to-Español: A Cultural Pedagogy Site for Spanish Bilingual Educators

Click here to access more information on Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG)

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