The honor of dual language educator for the month of August goes to Katherine Alvarez, a teacher in Geneva, New York. She has been an educator for four years, during which time she has worked as a Montessori educator in her native Puerto Rico, and as a bilingual teacher in Geneva, New York.
Although her career as an educator is in its initial stages, Ms. Alvarez’s talent has been recognized by May Famsworth, who shared the following about her:
"Senorita Alvarez Malave is a pioneering teacher in the growing Dual Language program at North Street Elementary. Over the past three years, she has been a tireless advocate for students, an innovative teacher, and she has fostered meaningful connections between teachers and parents, especially with our inaugural group of dual-language learners. Her dream, which is shaping up to be a reality, is to commemorate the start of bilingual education at North Street School with a commemorative community-based mural."
Her career as an educator began at home, where her mother taught her English. Acquiring a second language was a great accomplishment from a child who came from a large family with a low socio-economic status. Although they had little, she learned a valuable lesson on the importance of helping others.
The experiences she had growing up in Puerto Rico that include witnessing the political instability, struggles with her cultural identity, and observing and analyzing the educational system were all instrumental in her becoming an educator. All of these helped to shape her philosophy and perspective on the importance of community involvement in the education of children.
Her family and friends all helped her to understand that her experiences and the need that the community had for good educators put her on the path to helping students to learn and grow. She was also influenced by her own teachers who were nurturing and encouraged her to have high aspirations and expectations for herself. She learned the lessons well and when the economic circumstances in her country became dire, she began to look for teaching opportunities in the United States. While reaching the end of her quest to pursue a master’s degree, she was offered the opportunity to work in the United States as a bilingual teacher.
“I enjoy children’s creative mindsets and acknowledging that all students have each a strength to express ideas and feelings. Each child brings a background and live within a learning community and share a valuable cultural experience. Working through building a self image of themselves and where they come from has been the biggest asset in my teaching.”
The perspective and practices in her classroom come from her own research as a graduate student. She has presented at professional conferences as well as completing a research project that was presented as her thesis for a master’s degree. These projects focused on identifying effective vs. ineffective implementation process of DL programs at initial stages.
Her classroom is guided by leading her students to embrace their cultural heritage with acceptance and tolerance. She helps them to find their voice and how to use it.
“I strive to help them identify what makes them feel full of pride and respect. How they can be represented specifically as a child of color inside of all the political tensions, and how all of the [ethnicities] of my classroom, in these past three years teaching in the U.S., can develop a sense of socio-cultural competence.”
Her work with her students carries beyond the classroom through her outreach efforts where her focus is in engaging families in their child’s education. She creates an atmosphere where trust is built and with this, there is an increase in the family’s participation in their child’s education. She believes the families are an important element to maintain student’s confidence and socio-emotional strength. When students are recognized by their families, they feel valued and loved and perform at their highest potential.
In her work as a dual language educator she understands and has first-hand experience with what it means to be biliterate. She defines biliteracy as possessing a strong first/home language, while learning a second language. In her experience, she did not understand the relevance of this until she became an adolescent, when she realized the advantage of using both languages proficiently, in particular with literacy.
In order to teach her students the importance of biliteracy, she teaches them to value and nurture their home language. She sets the stage for the success of both language groups by creating lessons that promote interaction between all language groups.
Katherine presenting after receiving the 2019 The Young Memorial Trust for International Peace and Understanding award, at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges Geneva, New York.
“These interactions are aligned with real life experiences where she believes that students ‘learn that mistakes are what makes us grow and that our community in the classroom is a safe place to practice’.”
During the time that she has been in the United States, she has witnessed the transformation in her students. She has seen different worlds come together with a mutual respect for one another. She hopes that they will continue to respect each other and teach others to build communities based on tolerance and acceptance. She hopes that they will use their voice to become advocates for a world in which they bring their perspectives and critical ideas to the table to create a world where everyone is equal.
She wishes that they can find mentors that represent their culture and values so they can help and impact their decision making in reaching and fulfilling their dreams. Above all, her greatest hope is that they continue to find joy in learning and knowledge.