In July’s edition of Teacher of the Month, we are honoring the wonderful Crystal Lopez, who has been a kindergarten teacher in the Kennewick, Washington area Two-Way Dual Language Program, housed at Fuerza Elementary (the only dual language program in the district) for four years. Crystal grew up in Kennewick, attended Kennewick schools (it was transitional bilingual when she attended), and now gives back to the program that she herself was raised in. She has been GLAD and Teaching for Biliteracy Trained. These trainings have paid off, as her students are soaring in Spanish and English. Within two months to the school year, Ms. Lopez’s students are already reading sentences in Spanish and understanding word families and sounds in English. She was nominated by her dual language program supervisor, Alyssa St. Hilaire. Alyssa had this to say about Crystal:
“Her teaching style reaches all students and her high expectations for all students is evident. When other school districts want to see what a 50/50 Two-Way Program should look like, Crystal is the model to strive for. Every minute is intentional. She gives all students the right foundation for a bilingual, biliterate, and multicultural future!”
Crystal began her career in education as a paraprofessional for one year before she became a teacher. She wanted to pursue a career in teaching as she had passionate teachers that inspired her as a student in her own learning of a second language, which gave her an urgency for helping others in a similar position in the USA.
I still remember learning English and how frightful that felt for me. I had great teachers that pushed me to my full potential. I knew I wanted to become a teacher because it was a way to reach students learning a second language and to become a resource to families. My own parents struggled and learned along the way to live in a different country. I was influenced to help those families, to be able to say “hey, I have been there, and I am here to help you”.
Crystal performed her student teaching at the district’s dual language program housed at Hawthorne Elementary from which she learned classroom management, dual language education, and student engagement. The following year, the program opened a new strand and she was hired to open the new strand.
Crystal is a firm believer in learning from other programs, and for teachers supporting each other in the classroom. Two years ago, she had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy. She then took her learning from the academy (classroom engagement and rigor) and combined it with biliteracy strategies. She uses these strategies to support her belief that students need to be highly engaged and motivated to learn a second language. She has created a safe, caring, engaging environment in the classroom where students can succeed. She allows her students to have a voice and prepare themselves to be leaders. Students are encouraged to express their thinking and comment on their classmates thinking in a respectful manner.
She works to give her students opportunities outside of the classroom so that they can bring this knowledge into the classroom. This allows students to create positive relationships and take their experiences to the classroom, which makes a big difference in engagement. She strives to use outside-of-school situations to connect and reflect on what they are doing at school. The value of using the theme at school allows students to become excited to try and find these concepts outside of school. She utilizes homework to connect the classroom to home. She always asks students to make connections to stories.
I love coming to work knowing that I am going to spark learning for my students. I love looking back and realizing how much they have learned academically and socially. The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that I have created fun, meaningful memories and learning that will last life-long.
Ms. Lopez constantly sets the expectation to celebrate being bilingual. Everyone in the classroom makes sure to value their learning progress in both languages. She has her students list as a class how they will impact others in school and in their communities because they are bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural (multicultural).
Crystal’s strong belief that participating in a dual language program is the number one asset to her students allows them to become leaders because of the high standards that are expected from them. She hopes that her students always remember how much she cared and believed in what they are capable of doing. She hopes they see how much they can achieve and that they take everything (academically and socially) that they learned from her classroom to help others and make positive choices in their futures. Kindergarten is the starting point in their schooling; and we know that they will alway remember her passion for them and their belief in their future.
Biliteracy to me means the opportunity to receive a gift that will last a lifetime. Being able to communicate in two languages opens so many doors. Not only are we teaching our students to speak in two languages, we are teaching them to successfully communicate in both a social and academic situation. Student are learning to speak, read, and write at high levels in both languages. Biliteracy to me as a teacher means holding my students to a high standard and helping them receive the best education they can in Spanish and English.
If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.