Dual Language May Teacher of the Month: Kristie Almeyda
Our May Dual Language Teacher of the Month, Kristie Almeyda, has been involved in education for 13 years. There were actually many factors in her reasoning for wanting to become involved in education. As we often talk about, parent engagement with their child is so important in the learning process. Kristie’s mother did not send Kristie and her sister to pre-k. Instead, she created a small pretend classroom in their apartment and would teach her daughters herself. Kristie writes that her mother is the best teacher she has ever met. She was always very creative with the way she would explain/teach something to Kristie and her sister, and was an outside of the box thinker.
It’s where my love of the craft of teaching began. From then on I would always play “school,” turning everything into a “lesson” for my younger sister. I would even write with chalk on our wooden closet doors. The second layer to my motivation to become an educator, was my early childhood experience with language acquisition. I spoke very early, and was fully bilingual at a very young age. However by the age of about 4 Spanish was no longer really spoken in my home. I spoke only English throughout most of my childhood and adolescence. It was not until Middle School when I entered my first Spanish class that I realized how much Spanish was still there in my brain waiting to be reawakened. In a matter of weeks it all came flooding back to me. What I had learned up until the age of 4 had stayed with me! Those connections I had made so early on in my life were there and were strong. It was then that I knew how amazingly powerful the human brain was, especially early on in life.
This motivated Kristie to want to become an early childhood teacher, and be able to work with students and help to set a solid foundation for them as early as possible. At that point becoming a Kindergarten teacher was her goal. She was awarded a “future teacher” award at her high school graduation. She applied early-decision to the School of Education at Manhattanville College, was awarded a Scholarship, calculated every single class to the credit so that she did not waste a second, and about 5 years later was the first person in her family to graduate from college.
Ms. Almeyda first began her career as a student teacher in her current school in 3rd and 1st grade. At the end of her student teaching experience, a leave replacement position opened up in a first grade classroom and she was offered the position. Once that ended in June she was then offered a tenure track position to run a bilingual early childhood birth-age four pre-k class and mommy and me program. After running that for a few years she was asked to help start the Dual-Language program in their district.
I love being nimble, flexible, ever-changing. I love being responsive to the needs and challenges I see in front of me, and adapting/being innovative and finding ways to stretch my repertoire and help students rise to different challenges little by little. I love seeing their confidence grow as they begin to master tasks that were once difficult for them. One of the many beauties of dual language is watching this unique and amazing vulnerability, interdependence, reliance and trust that the students need to develop between themselves as peers and with me as the teacher. They need to be okay with making mistakes, sounding silly, taking risks and simply not knowing something. They need to be comfortable in their learning skin. This is something that is even difficult for most adults. But these kids are phenomenal and they don’t give up! These are behaviors that are essential for any learner, but especially a dual-language learner. For me as the teacher, it is even more rewarding to see this because I know what an absolute gift Dual-Language is not only for students’ social-emotional development, but for their physical brains.
Ms. Almeyda spoke of the beautiful connections that are being made and strengthened each day in dual language classrooms that will continue to pay back dividends to them later on in life, either with mathematical reasoning, playing an instrument, learning another language, etc… Even more importantly, she says that the cultural competence, empathy, and understanding they develop for one another is remarkable. She truly believes that dual-language helps children at a young age develop a curiosity for, love of and respect for others’ backgrounds and cultures. This aspect of Dual-Language is one of her passions, she loves being able to see the pot of gold at the end of it all.
Ms. Almeyda and her partner teacher created their own blend of phonics instruction that builds in a consistent opportunity for bridging within phonics, helping students to make cross-linguistic connections between both systems, and capitalize on what they know in one language to support the new acquired learning in the other.
I wouldn’t say that I stand out in any way. I am fortunate to be in a school and in a district with amazing educators. And our Dual-Language program is a microcosm of that. Every teacher in the program loves what they do. They are passionate, creative, innovative and they give their all to not only their students but their families as well. I am so grateful for my DL team. I think being part of a team and learning what you can all of the time from others is what makes all the difference in the world. As soon as you see yourself as an island you will not be as effective. I always try to learn from other teachers. My teaching and classroom is a true melting pot of what I have picked up from fellow colleagues over the years, along with what I learn in the real world. In teaching you work with a balance of best practices, research-based information and good old gut instinct.
One thing that makes Ms. Almeyda’s classroom shine is how she is constantly trying new things to reach her learners. She make a lot of different multi-sensory materials, activities, and will invent new mini units of study to address certain needs. She enjoy being spontaneous with her students whenever possible. One day, it was snowing ever so lightly outside and they were learning about number sentences, so Kristie stopped the class, they walked out and wrote the sentences in the thin snow powder that had just fallen. She was able to bring in Spanish weather vocabulary into the math lesson, and the kids had a multi-sensory opportunity to explore math so it made the learning that much more engaging and meaningful for them. She enjoys being silly with them, and bringing in music and dance as much as possible.
Just as Ms. Almeyda’s mother was heavily involved in her education, she keeps parents heavily involved and informed about their child’s progress/needs. The home extension activities that she provides are differentiated for each child. She uses a text messaging system to message each parent after an assessment to inform the parent of the child’s goals/next steps. Having a strong partnership with her families helps her tremendously. The kids are able to be challenged and supported from both home and school and she can definitely see the results!
Biliteracy opens up doors that would otherwise be closed to you, especially when it comes to communication and relationships with others who speak another language and who come from different backgrounds. It also means that you are not continuing to place a high value on one language (English), but you see the beauty and in some ways, greater value of the other language (Spanish). Biliteracy means you see yourself in both language worlds, but you try and find a way for them to live happily together instead of as silos. They are both a part of you and affect how you think, communicate and interact with the world.
She tries to help her students begin to understand what biliteracy does to their brain. She tries to help them see how with it they can make friends with people who they otherwise would not have been able to talk to. She tries to help them see themselves as a small yet vital part of a much larger and beautiful world that they will be able to interact with on a much deeper level. There have been many times when her students have been able to experience this right in Kindergarten. When they have gotten a new arrival who only speaks Spanish enter the program late in the year, some of the most attentive students to those children have been the “English-speaking” students, because it’s like it has given them an opportunity to put their knowledge of Spanish into practice in the “real world.” She has seen this build tremendous confidence and joy in them as they realize that they would have never been able to help that student, let alone get to know him/her so well and so soon, without Spanish.
Spanish is their key to that door. These types of experiences will continue to grow exponentially as they get older. I see them valuing others’ cultures and differences, being kind and loving. Showing care and empathy. Being initiative-takers, ground-breakers, paving the way for innovation in an interconnected world. I see them building bridges where there currently are none, and helping future generations to see the beauty and value of all languages. I hope they encourage others to take pride in their language and heritage. I don’t need them to remember me personally, but I want them to feel that they are standing on a strong, beautiful foundation that was set for them that allows them to reach their fullest potential as kind and loving human beings who care for and reach out to support others. I hope that what I do with them in the classroom allows one of my bricks as an educator to be laid as part of that foundation for them.