Sarah Quezada

There is no doubt about the increasing popularity of dual language programs and the corresponding need for dual language teachers in the United States. Leaders, teachers and parents of schools from regions across the country continue to surprise and motivate the DualLanguageSchools.org team to honor teachers’ dedication to multilingualism and multiculturalism. April’s Dual Language Teacher of the Month was nominated by Mr. Alex Cosio whose child attends San Antonio’s first trilingual immersion elementary school.

Founded in 2015 by Sarah Quezada, Tohuí Language Academy of San Antonio, Texas was “designed by researchers and founded by educators to provide a Pre K—3 immersion program in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.” Promotion of higher level thinking in second and third languages while developing native languages through sound theory and enriched instructional model makes Tohuí Language Academy a very unique haven for learning. When Mr. Cosio nominated Sarah Quezada as a Dual Language Teacher Award recipient, the knowledge of Sarah’s dedication in and outside of the classroom left us with a determination to share the work of this multilingual and multicultural role model.

What are some interesting details about dual language immersion in San Antonio that you’d like to share?

San Antonio is a huge city with more than 10 public districts serving language learners. Every district has a different model adoption to teaching non English speakers and there are no private elementary schools that currently offer a 1 way or 2 way dual programs in San Antonio.

Did you face any challenges in establishing San Antonio’s first trilingual school?

I have overcome many challenges while establishing San Antonio’s first trilingual school. The first one was finding the right people to be part of the board. There are many bilingual educators in San Antonio and I needed the best. The few who are open to look at strategies and research outside of Texas have very busy schedules. I’ve been lucky to find those educators in places I’ve worked. Once I find them or work with them, I don’t let them go. I get their contact information and reach out to them every time I have something to ask or discuss.

Teacher of the Month - Sarah Quezada

When starting any kind of educational project we have to make sure that the foundations are strong. I took my time to put everything together. It took me two years of research private education policies and state policies and one year of board meetings to discuss the model, approach and curriculum. I took the time to visit Alicia Chacon Elementary at El Paso (one of the best dual language schools nation-wide offering the 45-45-10 model) to observe the classes and ask principals questions.

I took my time to put everything together. It took me two years of research private education policies and state policies and one year of board meetings to discuss the model, approach and curriculum.

The second challenge was budget. Since the school has not gotten a non-profit status, all funds have to come from personal loans. Because of this, the board members and I are providing free coaching, training and resources. The third challenge has been creating and establishing a reputation of quality and excellence in bilingual education.

What are some of the most rewarding parts of spearheading a trilingual school?

Being a dual language teacher is really hard, language acquisition doesn’t happen from one day to another, it takes time to see the results of hard work, consistency and good practice. This time of year my 4- and 5-year-olds are reading, writing and speaking in three languages. Seeing such little kids performing academically in three languages and embracing differences and culture makes it all worth it.

Teacher of the Month - Sarah Quezada

What advice would you give to those who want to start a dual language/trilingual immersion program?

My advice would be: research, learn and prepare yourself. An immersion program is not about speaking to the kids in a different language all day and that’s it.

Continue reading to learn about Sarah Quezada’s appreciation for conferences and passion for biliteracy.

Why do you think it is important for teachers to present at state and national conferences?

It is important to share strategies, to share with others what has worked for your kids in your classroom. It is also important to go and learn from others. I’ve been to CABE, TABE, NABE, La Cosecha, Austin Dual Language and Region 20. From each of them, I have acquired valuable strategies. I have learned about Story Grammar Marker (strategy that inspired my oral language presentation), GLAD, guided reading in the bilingual classroom, ELD, SIOP and Literacy Squared. All of those presentations were done by teachers implementing those strategies in their classroom. I find those presentations very valuable because if a real teacher has implemented them and they have seen them work then it is worth to try to see those same results with my students.

I find those presentations very valuable because if a real teacher has implemented them and they have seen them work then it is worth to try to see those same results with my students.

What was your presentation topic at TABE?

“Lenguaje oral como puente para la lectoescritura” (“Oral Language as a Bridge for Literacy”) shared the importance and benefits of oral language development to build on reading and skills; and how those skills transfer from one language to the other. It was my first time presenting at a conference and I was very nervous. I financed my trip to the conference and used my personal days off. The room got full pretty quickly with about 40 educators so I felt blessed. As I was going through the presentation, showing students’ writing and explaining processes step by step, I kept hearing the educators in the room saying, “This makes so much sense,” and “We need more oral language.”

What does biliteracy mean to you?

The ability to speak read and write in two or more languages academically. The key is being bicultural while respecting and embracing differences.

Teacher of the Month - Sarah Quezada

How have your students shown they understand the value of biliteracy?

With little things they say at random times, I can tell they are biliterate and bicultural. For example, during Black History Month one student said, “We are all different. In China they celebrate Chinese New Year and don’t celebrate Christmas. That is fine. Being different is fine!”

We had one visitor who asked a student, “Do you speak Spanish and English?” and my student answered, “No, I am trilingual. I speak Spanish, English and Chinese and when I grow up I will go to China.”

What kind of impact do you see your students having in the world?

I see them standing up for what is right, respecting and understanding differences, as well as teaching others to love, respect and accept.

What is your favorite part of being an educator?

My favorite part of being an educator is being an active learner. Being an active learner means not being afraid to ask for help regardless of how many years of experience you have. This means letting people come into your classroom to observe and share constructive feedback. It also means embracing that constructive feedback and making the necessary changes. It can also mean going to conferences and being willing to apply what has been learned.

My favorite part of being an educator is being an active learner. Being an active learner means not being afraid to ask for help regardless of how many years of experience you have.

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