There is a tremendous responsibility dual language teachers have regarding the acknowledgment of cultural contributions through language and the arts of diverse communities. Of course, rich supplies of sources are endless but magic in the classroom stems from the roots of curiosity and innovation planted by educators. For this reason, DualLanguageSchools.org is proud to announce 5th/6th grade Dual Language Teacher Laura Reyes of Baldwin Park's Margaret Heath Elementary School as the recipient of the Teacher of the Month Award for February 2017.
Laura Reyes was initially placed on DualLanguageSchool.org's radar by dual language powerhouse Madalena Arellano (former Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement, Baldwin Park Unified School District) who nominated Laura based on her outstanding commitment to diversity, the arts and her students' academic and personal development. Margaret Heath Elementary School Principal Maria Alonso seconded the nomination by attributing Laura's success with students and community to her roots, which are in Baldwin Park: "Ms. Reyes is a product of Baldwin Park so she knows her students best. She knows their families and grew up with relatives of her students and came back as an agent of change for the community. She always thinks out of the box, never makes excuses and always uses the needs of her students as her goals."
Principal Maria Alonso also claimed, "I'm amazed at how Baldwin Park has been able to sustain a dual language program for 20 years and has had a history of maintaining its service to the community without compromising the core values cultural competency through language." To have a teacher epitomize the values of a school and community is an irreplaceable advantage for students of any age. Read more for an inspiring and motivating account of February's DualLanguageSchools.org Teacher of the Month, Laura Reyes.
How long have you been involved in education?
I have been in public education for 26 years, 7 of these years as a Spanish bilingual instructional aide in K-6 and Adult Education and the other 19 years as a Spanish dual language teacher at the elementary level. My various teaching experiences include primary, upper grade and adult education. I currently teach a 5th/6th dual language class. I also teach ESL at Citrus Community College in Glendora, California. I have taught beginning and intermediate ESL at the community college level for the past 2 years.
What was your biggest influence in becoming an educator?
I decided that education was my calling when I became a bilingual instructional aide at the elementary level. I got a lot of gratification in helping the ESL students achieve their goals. I knew their struggles because I was also an ESL student, and I could relate to the difficulties they were facing. I wanted to be there for the students and help them succeed. Each day I woke up excited to get to school and help my students reach their potential by fostering a love of learning. I know that instilling a love of learning in students ensures a brighter future for them.
How did you arrive at Baldwin Park Unified School District?
I didn't have to look very far when I decided I wanted to teach. I am a product of Baldwin Park Unified School District. I was raised in Baldwin Park and attended school in this fabulous district. I graduated from Baldwin Park High School in June, was hired as an instructional aide at Margaret Heath Elementary in October, and I transitioned into teaching at the same school.
I saw first-hand how the dual language program made a difference in the lives of our students by promoting biliteracy and high levels of academic achievement.
Baldwin Park Unified School District brought dual language to Margaret Heath in 1994. This was the change that made the biggest impact on my teaching career. I saw first-hand how the dual language program made a difference in the lives of our students by promoting biliteracy and high levels of academic achievement. This motivated me to advocate for the program and to immerse myself as much as I could in the program. I wanted to make sure that when I became a teacher, I was prepared to teach a dual language classroom.
What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
There are so many things that make teaching enjoyable. It is gratifying to know that the knowledge my students gain in my classroom helps prepare them for their future. It is also very rewarding to see my students succeed and blossom right before my eyes. I get the most satisfaction when my students make connections and grasp concepts for the first time. I like to see students get excited when they seek more information. The best feeling is when students know that my class is a place where they are going to be safe, have fun, collaborate and, most importantly, learn in a variety of fun and exciting ways.
Have you conducted research or presented at any national or state conferences? If so, which ones?
I am currently an associate with Solution Tree. Solution Tree is an educational publishing company that provides professional development on strategies and tools that educators can use to enhance student performance. I am part of a team called Soluciones, and our focus is eliminating the achievement gap for Latino students. The Soluciones team has presented in Arizona, Florida and Northern California. Our next conference will take place in Dallas, Texas in November. This conference focuses on cultivating a learning-rich environment for Latino students. At this conference, participants learn best practices and researched–based strategies to eliminate the achievement gap for Latino students. I share specific, practical ways to connect with Latino students to ensure they feel comfortable in the school setting and help them thrive in classrooms. In my sessions, I provide participants with research-based strategies and lessons that have met the needs of my Latino students. I highlight ways educators can support Latino students and English learners by building background knowledge and vocabulary, providing opportunities for them to engage in academic conversations and ensuring they have access to content.
I highlight ways educators can support Latino students and English learners by building background knowledge and vocabulary, providing opportunities for them to engage in academic conversations and ensuring they have access to content.
What did you bring from the research into your classroom?
My work with Solution Tree has given me the great opportunity to be part of a team, Soluciones, which understands the immediate need to support English learners and increase academic achievement for Latino students. Through my work with Soluciones, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some of the top researchers in the world in the area of English language development. My colleague, Margarita Calderon, has done extensive research in language and literacy development of English language learners. One piece of Margarita Calderon's work that my colleague and I incorporated into our classroom instruction is her "7 Steps to Vocabulary Instruction." My colleague and I designed a researched-based Lesson Plan Design for Reading Comprehension in which Calderon's "7 Steps to Vocabulary Instruction" is the foundation to every part of our lesson design. This lesson design is the basis of our instruction. We use research-based strategies that foster our students' learning. We have created and designed our own activities that make our students move beyond the basic worksheet and embrace the new way of learning by collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, and using their creativity. This has increased learning for our students; they want to read, learn, and share new knowledge. Most importantly, they believe in themselves.
We have created and designed our own activities that make our students move beyond the basic worksheet and embrace the new way of learning by collaborating, communicating, thinking critically and using their creativity.
What do you think makes your classroom stand out?
My students are very independent, and they take ownership of the classroom. The day begins with students doing their specific jobs: attendance, flag salute, checking for homework, turning on computers, collecting and passing out papers, filling staplers and paper clip containers, etc. My classroom is also a print-rich environment where there are plenty of student and group work displayed. There is evidence that there is a lot of collaboration and group work going on. The writing that is displayed reflects the end products that the students are collaboratively working on.
Constant collaboration is what fosters the learning in my classroom. Students have meaningful and respectful dialogue. Students have clear expectations (Speaking Norms) they follow in order to have a more productive conversation. Students memorize these norms and use them not only in our class, also in whatever class or group setting they are in.
Which three words would you use to describe your school leadership?
I think I am generous as I am always willing to share new ideas. I am supportive of staff members' needs because I go above and beyond to ensure all staff members have what's needed to increase learning for all students. In addition, I am focused on best practices for our students. For example, we are a Thinking Maps school, and I am receiving Write From the Beginning training this year. I am on the No Excuses University team and we just applied to become a No Excuses University school site. In addition, I am currently providing the staff with professional development on Lesson Study in which teachers work collaboratively to design effective lessons, observe each other teach these lessons, and then debrief and reconstruct the lessons to better meet the needs of all students.
Which three words would you use to describe your students?
First, self-assured. My students know that they are knowledgeable and they think well of themselves and each other. Second, determined. Each and every one of my students never gives up. They push each other to do their best and to reach the goals we have set together. Third, enthusiastic. They have high levels of positive energy; they are creative and inspire each other.
What does biliteracy mean to you?
The Mission of our dual language program is to implement high-quality instruction that focuses on academic achievement in English and Spanish and to graduate students as bilingual, biliterate and culturally diverse. To me, biliteracy means that by the time my current students graduate high school, they will have developed high levels of language and literacy in two languages and they will have a solid understanding of diversity.
How have you helped your students understand the value of biliteracy?
I teach my students the value of biliteracy by teaching the cultural contributions, skills and beliefs of diverse cultures. It is important for the students to understand their culture before learning and building on other cultures. I not only teach cultural diversity through books but also through theater, poetry, and art.
What kind of impact do you see your students having in the world?
For most of my students, many will be the first in their families to go off to college. The impact I would like for them to make is to go back into their community and become mentors just as I have done. They know the struggles and feelings they went through to get to where they are today, and they succeeded. They can make a huge difference in peoples' lives by sharing their experiences and giving hope to those who have similar experiences.
The impact I would like for them to make is to go back into their community and become mentors just as I have done…They can make a huge difference in peoples' lives by sharing their experiences and giving hope to those who have similar experiences.
What kind of impact do you hope to have on your students?
As teachers, we are the most important part of a child's education. I hope to build students' positive character that will guide them throughout their educational journey. I hope that once my students leave my classroom, they carry the wisdom that we learned together, stand-up for what is right, continue to understand cultural diversity, be fair and always believe in themselves.