Rosa Denson

Our hope of celebrating dual language teachers for their commitment to bilingual, biliterate and multicultural education came from the realization that more should be done to honor the journeys and dedication of educators. From the start, the team noticed dual language district and instructional coaches expressed similar opinions in their nominations. When nominations came from parents, a different chord was struck. One that epitomized teachers’ capacities to successfully share with students, schools and communities unyielding passion and consistent altruism.

This month’s Dual Language Teacher of the Month, Rosa Denson, was nominated by several parents because of the dynamism they observed in their children and experienced during classroom visits and school activities. One parent asserted, “[She is] the only teacher in our school to hold tutoring for 1st and 2nd graders by utilizing and empowering upper graders.” Another parent explained, “She has two sons of her own, yet I see her classroom light on late into the evenings as I pass by the school. This is a dedicated teacher that I believe should be recognized for all she does!”

From an early age, Rosa proved she was destined for a career in education. If you have ever wanted to help your community, Rosa’s path toward dual language education is bound to inspire and motivate your educative journey.

How did your parents and friends support your journey to be an educator that you made clear at 5 years old?

I have always been so fortunate and blessed to have the most amazing friends and colleagues as well as the most loving and dedicated family. I have an incredibly supportive husband who understands that teaching is my vocation. When I was five years old, I told my mom I was going to be a teacher. She took the time to “play school” with me and allowed me to be the teacher. She always told me that she knew I was going to accomplish exactly what I set my mind to do. She was a stay at home mom but babysat kids in our neighborhood. Being the youngest of four, I feel I got special attention from my siblings and the kids my mom took care of. Playing school with my siblings and the kids my mom babysat inspired my love for teaching very early on. It’s awesome how play can inspire a love for something.

In high school, I tutored several students. I remember tutoring a remedial student during lunch at least twice a week who struggled in math and reading. That was one of my most rewarding experiences. I can clearly remember how happy he was and how excited I felt when he smiled because he was learning. In college, there was no hesitation or doubt that I would do everything possible to get a bilingual credential and obtain my master’s degree in education. All of the everyday things my parents did and continue to do for me, as well as their example of resiliency and dedication to their children, continues to inspire me as an educator and parent.

What would you like to share about how you first became acquainted with dual immersion?

I previously taught in two schools, Christian Sorensen Elementary in Whittier and Kingsley Elementary in Montclair. Both offered a Transitional Early Exit program which is a bilingual program model that serves a student identified as limited English proficient in both English and Spanish, and transfers the student to English-only instruction. I knew that dual language schools existed and felt that the dual language model presented the best opportunity for students to become bilingual, biliterate and multicultural by continuing Spanish and English instruction throughout the grade levels. About 10 years ago, when I learned about Ontario Montclair School District deciding to incorporate a magnet dual immersion school at Central I was so thrilled. The first thing I did was find out about how I could get my son (who was in kindergarten then) to attend in first grade.

Rosa Denson's dual language students

Rosa Denson’s 1st graders taking pride in a cooperative project they presented.

Did you initiate the dual immersion program at Central Language Academy?

I am not sure who initiated the dual immersion program at Central Language Academy. However, I believe it was most likely a joint effort of principals and district staff due to high interest in having such a magnet school within our district. There were actually several schools that offered dual language within our district. However, the district decided that one school would become the magnet language academy and Central was fortunate enough to be chosen. I believe that my previous principal who retired several years ago, Mr. Gorman Bentley, was very instrumental in making sure that all the pieces came together to start this language academy. He was very passionate about the program and this inspired the teachers to be passionate about it as well.

Whenever a new program is started, the early years become so important because they build the foundation for the program. I am so happy that I was able to begin teaching at Central Language Academy a year after the program began. It makes me feel like I am a part of its foundation.

Continue reading to see what Rosa Denson has added to the culture of Central Language Academy.

What brought you to Central Language Academy?

After I was able to get my oldest son into the dual language program, my next goal was to become a teacher at Central Language Academy. I remember spending lots of time at our school as a parent volunteer and I was very transparent about making sure everyone knew how much I wanted to be here as a teacher. I feel very grateful that this became a reality. I absolutely love being a dual language teacher. I truly believe it is the best model for learning two languages and provides many opportunities for multicultural learning. Although I had taught in bilingual education (transitional early exit program) previously, I definitely wanted to teach in an environment where bilingualism and biliteracy is the ultimate goal.

Although I had taught in bilingual education (transitional early exit program) previously, I definitely wanted to teach in an environment where bilingualism and biliteracy is the ultimate goal.

How did Peer Tutoring come into existence?

During my second year of teaching at Central Language Academy (seven years ago), I was inspired by a group of students and parents to start something that I knew would help struggling students. Some of those students included ones that were struggling with learning a second language, academic achievement or a little bit of both. As dual language teachers, we all understand that parents (especially those whose children are learning Spanish as a second language) are taking a leap of faith when they decide to enroll their child in a dual Immersion program. I believed that creating and facilitating an after school intervention program would help first graders and be a positive and effective way to support student learning.

Rosa Denson's upper grade student tutors.

Central Language Academy’s 2016-2017 peer tutors in Grades 5-8 make a difference to help their school community.

A peer tutoring program in which motivated and responsible upper grade dual language students helped our first graders just seemed like the best way to help strengthen and instill responsibility, confidence, collaboration and compassion (our school’s 3C’s and R motto). In this program, fifth through eighth grade peer tutors (most recommended by teachers and some wanting to help by choice) help our first grade students. They help them with homework, reading fluency and a variety of math and reading enrichment activities for an hour after school one to two times per week from October through the end of March.

For the past seven years, I have been fulfilled and inspired by this awesome dynamic of kids helping kids. It truly fills me up with pride and happy emotions when I see how much the kids learn from each other. Both the little ones and the upper graders learn the meaning of giving back and that is absolutely priceless. I can honestly say that this has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done as an educator thus far. I plan on continuing it because of all the positive benefits that come from it.

What impact do your favorite mantras have on students and parents?

Students and parents who have been in my class know that I have several “mantras” that I preach and practice. My favorites are “¡Sí se puede!” (Yes I can!), “Todos somos únicos” (We are all unique), “Todo tiene solución” (Everything has a solution) and “Con esfuerzo todo es possible” (With effort everything is possible). I feel that having these “mantras” or sayings helps me connect what they are learning to real life situations. For example, many times when we are reading stories students will make his or her own connection and say something like, “Maestra, ese personaje tiene la actitude de ‘si se puede'” (Teacher, that character has the ‘yes I can’ attitude).

Once my students have had many opportunities to internalize the meanings of those sayings by using them where they apply, they begin to use them regularly. It makes me smile when I hear parents tell me that when they might be facing a problem at home, my student might say, “Mamá, todo tiene solución,” or in English, “Mom, everything has a solution.” I tell my students that sometimes the solution may be to be strong enough to accept something the way it is and be able to move on. Overall, I believe this helps my kids learn life lessons, which is an essential part of what they need to learn at school.

Rosa Denson's students and parents in the dual language classroom.

Parents help with learning centers at the fall murciélagos y arañas (bats and spiders) party.

What makes your classroom stand out?

I believe that every classroom at our school stands out for different reasons. We definitely have the most dedicated staff at Central Language Academy because I see that every teacher goes the extra mile to benefit their students. I am so fortunate to be part of a staff where we learn from each other’s strengths.

Something that may make my classroom stand out is the fact that the parents of my students know that at any given time they can come into my classroom and are encouraged to do so. I fully believe in an open door policy. I believe parents feel a stronger connection when they are involved and welcomed. Students love when parents come to help and I am very transparent about the fact that I enjoy and appreciate the advantages that this provides for students. Of course, there are challenging days where one may not think it is the best day to have a parent or parents present. This is when I involve the parents even more in what we are doing so they can understand that con esfuerzo todo es posible (with effort everything is possible). They become part of the catalyst that helps to solve problems or issues. I try very hard to make sure parents know that I believe “they are the first and most important teachers of their children.” The more they can be connected and involved in positive ways, the more WE (as a team) can maximize social, emotional and academic growth for children.

Continue reading to see what advice Rosa Denson offers future dual language educators.

How do you encourage multicultural/multiliterate learning?

I love the fact that we have a multicultural committee at Central Language Academy made up of a facilitator and grade level representatives that guide us with a variety of multicultural themes throughout the entire year. This committee provides a tremendous amount of support for encouraging multicultural learning at our school. All this support makes it easier to integrate multicultural awareness in my classroom. This committee plans multicultural events at our school (such as performers for Chinese New Year and guest speakers or presenters for African American History month). We also get information, power points and activities for monthly multicultural themes that teachers strive to connect and integrate into our existing curriculum. I am blessed to work with the most collaborative and talented first grade team. One day per month we plan a rotation where each classroom visits each first grade teacher and receives a different lesson tied to the multicultural theme for the month. The students look forward to this because they learn so much from it and they get the opportunity to learn from different teachers.

Rosa Denson's hike with upper grade students outside.

“I enjoy organizing a healthy excursion where peer tutors have the opportunity to walk the Claremont Wilderness Trail.” – Rosa Denson

What have you learned through 20 years of teaching?

Building strong connections with your students is absolutely most important. Knowing you truly care is at the heart of what motivates and inspires students. You need to learn what makes each child happy and want to learn more. My grandfather used to say, “Cada cabeza es un mundo.” This does not translate very well into English. The direct translation is “Every head is its own world,” or in other words, we are all different and unique). I have learned to appreciate and understand that my grandfather would say that all the time because he wanted us to appreciate the uniqueness in everyone and understand each other’s perspectives. He was very wise. Therefore, in order to become the most effective teacher I can be, I always need to strive to learn what makes each child reach their maximum potential socially, emotionally and academically. It IS and always will be different for each child. Every person filters things differently and lives a different reality. This is why positive parent support is so important. This is why reaching out and using all your valuable resources to gain insight as to what each child needs is so crucial. This is why I believe so much in incorporating differentiated instruction whenever possible. If I can, to the best of my ability, learn what makes each child learn best, then I am doing what is best for them.

What advice would you give to future teachers?

I would try to give future teachers lots of advice based on what I have learned from my students, parents, colleagues and administrators. In my perspective, some of the most important advice would be the following:

  • Positivity, flexibility, consistency, creativity and patience will be your most important assets.
  • Remember that all your great moments as a teacher will far outweigh the tough ones. However, as my father tells me, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This saying always helps me.
  • Know that every child does not learn in the same way on the same day. Therefore, do your best to get to know their strengths and build on those. Inspire them to believe they can always be achievers.
  • Allow your students to get to know some things about you (such as your sense of humor or talents) and this will help them feel connected and know that you truly care. Always work on positive relationships with your students.
  • Know that at the end of the day what parents really want to know is this; “Is my child happy and is my child learning?” In that order.

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