Dual Language Schools: Teacher(s) of the MonthSeptember Dual Language Teacher of the Month: Ruth Villegas

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The teacher of the month for September is Ruth Villegas. Ms. Villegas is entering her seventeenth year as a classroom teacher. Currently, she is teaching second grade at Bellamy Elementary in Tampa Florida.

Ms. Villegas knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, as teaching seemed to be in her genes. Her mother was a teacher and she greatly admired her and the work that she did.

Ms. Villegas began her teaching career in the Windy City—Chicago. While in Chicago, she had the experience of teaching second, fifth, and sixth grade. After four years of teaching in Chicago, she was offered a teaching job in Florida. After discussing the opportunity with her family, they packed up their belongings and set out for the Sunshine State. Her assignments in Florida included teaching kindergarten, first, and second grade in a Title I school. She was then offered a position at Bellamy Elementary School, where her daughters attended school.

As her career evolved, Ms. Villegas greatly enjoyed her time in the classroom, but felt that she wanted to expand her knowledge and grow in her professional career. This led her to pursue a master’s degree in reading and curriculum. After receiving her masters, Ms. Villegas began to search for job opportunities where she could put the degree to use. However, fate had other plans in store.

The school district announced that they would be implementing a 50/50 dual language immersion program. The proposal was brought to Bellamy Elementary School. Although Ms. Villegas had little knowledge of dual language programs, she welcomed the opportunity to begin something new, and she and a colleague piloted the program at Bellamy.

Two years later, the program at Bellamy has been a life-changing experience for Ms. Villegas. This chapter in her career has been the most amazing and rewarding time of her career. In her words,

“I have fallen in love with teaching all over again. To see what these students are capable of, to witness the reward and watch these students become not only bilingual but biliterate and bicultural.”

She loves her job and sees first-hand the benefits and rewards the students will have as they progress through their academic careers. She understands the benefits and rewards of a program that students will have as they grow in their academic careers and feels privileged to be a part of it.

The program at Bellamy is entering its third year with the first group going into second grade, the grade that Ms. Villegas teaches. This is the group that she taught in kindergarten. She is so excited to have the students who began the program once again. Her role in the program is as the Spanish teacher. This role is one in which she has faced challenges. As she transitioned from teaching in English, she had to learn how to translate the English teaching strategies into Spanish. This challenge has come with many extra hours, extra trainings, stacks of paper work, attending school visits, extra school events, and many hours dedicated to planning lessons.

Even with the extra hours, Ms. Villegas loves her job and believes that all that she puts in is worth each moment that she gets to experience. This job is not done in isolation. She credits the supportive English counterpart, their supervisor and all her wonderful co-workers with making the program a success.

The program has grown from two schools to four across the entire district. The demographics have changed from 4 teachers to 21, and from 80 students to almost 650. The program is having an impact on the district. Last summer, the team participated in the summer dual language teacher training event. In addition to the new teacher training opportunity, Ms. Villegas continues to develop her professional skills and will be serving as the dual language team leader at her school. She is looking forward to this experience and to continue in her work with new teachers.

When asked what biliteracy means to her, she shared the following:

“Biliteracy to me means opening new doors of opportunity for the students and a new level of cognitive awareness.”

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She accomplishes this by taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. For example, when visitors come to the classroom who are not bilingual, her students step in to translate. Or in everyday activities, such as shopping, class field trips, and, often, parent conferences. In each of these activities, her students serve as translators. She also encourages students to speak in Spanish in the classroom by playing games and rewarding them. She feels privileged to be on this journey by guiding students to become global citizens. She is so proud of the progress that the first group has made in two years.

“I had the privilege of teaching my current students in kindergarten and to see how fluent they have become in only two years, not only speaking, but reading and writing, on their way to bi-literacy, makes all the extra work worth it!”

We thank the September Teacher of the Month for her hard work and commitment to dual language education and for her part in shaping global citizens. We congratulate her for being recognized by her peers as an exemplary dual language educator.