Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Alma Ocampo-Nuñez


Alma Ocampo-Nuñez

Bilingual Lead Teacher in Chicago, IL

Alma Ocampo-Nuñez was born and raised in Chicago, IL to her Salvadoran mother and Mexican father – who emigrated from their native countries in the 1970s. A product of the Chicago Public Schools, Alma went on to major in Elementary Education and Spanish at Northeastern Illinois University, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in 2003.  That fall, she began teaching the 4th grade in the same school system that helped educate her. In her 7th year of teaching, she decided to pursue an advanced degree with the goal of expanding her knowledge-base and better serving the children in the community.  In 2011, she completed her Master’s Degree in School Leadership form Concordia University and also received her Administrative Certificate. Alma was compelled to work closer with the school and area leadership and Latino community to hopefully inspire students and parents to continue moving forward with their education- now and in the future.  She saw herself in so many of these children, and saw her parents in the many parents she met with. Realizing their own potential to act as leaders in the school and community and recognizing their hard work and commitment to their children’s education, she has helped facilitate the Bilingual Advisory Council.  Currently, Alma is the bilingual lead teacher and works primarily with Spanish bilingual students- grades kindergarten, 1st, 4th-8th.  In addition, she works with new student arrivals helping equip them with the resources they need to fully integrate themselves into the classroom. The Bilingual Advisory Council is made up of parents and has been recognized as a model for parent engagement. Alma feels “the most important part of her job is to advocate for these students and parents and to ensure they know they are an essential part of the school and community”.

Why do you teach?  I teach because I know that a teacher’s influence can be life-changing. Knowing this, I strive to be encouraging and to be part of a support system alongside the parents and my colleagues.

What do you love about teaching? Sometimes it takes years to learn the impact I have had on a student. I received this message a couple of years ago and I often read it, because it reminds me of the importance of my profession.

“Tomorrow I will be heading to college and I thought about all the things that lead me to this point in my life. I never got to take the time to really thank you for the impact you had on me. It’s funny how most people don’t realize the little things that can affect a person. Before I start school, I thought about all the things I have learned, all the things you told me, and how you inspired me to be who I am today.”

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Jose Rodríguez


Jose Rodríguez

Leander, Texas

Rodríguez currently teaches ESL at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Leander, Texas. After completing his undergraduate education at Pan American University and receiving an Honorable Discharge from the United States Marine Corps, Rodríguez began his professional work as urban planner at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in South Texas. He later received his alternative teaching certification and began teaching in the Weslaco School District. Rodríguez taught 3rd and 4th grades at Cleckler-Heald Elementary before moving to Beatriz Garza Middle School where he taught 6th grade and 8th grade. In 2009, Rodriguez was invited by the U.S. Department of Education to serve as Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow for one-year at ED Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The personal achievements of Rodriguez include an invitation by the U.S. Department of Education to serve as Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow for one-year at ED Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 2001, Rodríguez received Weslaco Schools’ District Teacher of the Year Award and the Outstanding Educator of the Year award from the League of United Latin American Citizens.In 2002, he was selected as a nominee for Region One’s Teacher of the Year in Texas. Rodríguez also contributed to the Middle Childhood Generalist Standards 3rd Edition, published in 2012 by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In 2011, Rodriguez transported a twelve-foot oak tree from Austin to D.C. (over 1,500 miles) and planted it on the grounds of the Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building in southwest Washington, D.C.; the tree serves as the official tree of the U.S. Department of Education.

Why do you teach? I teach because I enjoy working with young students. Their spirit keep me young and they teach me how to find wonder in the world.

What do you love about teaching? For the past 20 years, I have taught ELL students in grades Pk-8th grade. Many of these students were recent ELL immigrants from Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, South Korea, Jordan, and Lithuania. These same former students have gone on to graduate from university. They are now starting their careers and families. I love to teach because my students remind me of my family’s immigrant past and our nation’s collective immigrant family’s future in the United States; I love to teach because I am teaching the future of the United States.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? When I was a freshman in high school, I was inspired by a former Vietnam Veteran, Mark Brady, my world history teacher. I enjoyed being his student because he was a dynamic, interactive teacher that encouraged project-based learning long before this was an approach to teaching even before it had a name or on most educators’ radar in the early 1980s. More importantly, Mr. Brady encouraged us to think and questioned our thinking deliberately with respect, humor, and sincerity. I try to imitate Mr. Brady’s style of teaching everyday as a teacher.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Sylvia Padilla


Sylvia Padilla

4th Grade Bilingual Teacher in Long Beach, CA

Sylvia Padilla has been a bilingual teacher at Patrick Henry K-8 School in the Long Beach Unified District since 1991.  In 1989,  she was part of a parent grass roots group that pioneered  program at Patrick Henry meant to put bilingual students on equal footing with  their peers, helping them achieve academically as well as value their cultural heritage. The start of Patrick Henry’s Two Way Bilingual Immersion Program began with sixty kindergarten and first grade students, and today has grown to a school-wide k-8 program of over 700 students.  Señora Padilla now teaches fourth grade.  She has been awarded Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year and The California Association of Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year for collaborating at the school, district and state level to improve instruction, implementation and assessment of state standards in English and Spanish.  Sylvia earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s in elementary education-reading and language arts from California State University Long Beach.  In 2012, Sylvia was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I love to learn.  I teach with my heart, understanding that every child who crosses my path is important.  Every student  must be given the opportunity to reach their potential.

What I love about being a teacher is that I get to listen to students’ thinking.  My favorite saying is “Cada cabeza es un mundo”. “Each head is a world of its own”. Every child brings in knowledge that is to be shared and respected.  My role is to guide them, but every single one of my students is a teacher in my classroom.

What do you love about teaching?

I was inspired to be a teacher because I had hard-working parents who instilled in me the importance of education.  My parents did not have the opportunities we have in this great nation.  They instilled in all my brothers and sister a sense of pride in our Mexican heritage, as well as the importance of hard work. If we worked hard, we would be able to reach our dreams.  I tell my students every day that I am happy to see them, because I am living my dream.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I also had tough and caring teachers who made me work hard.  I will never forget Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, who taught me English at Van Nuys Jr. High School.  They encouraged me to improve and move into mainstream programs quickly.  In Van Nuys High School, the special education teacher, Marc Stephens took the time to encourage many of us to strive for a college education.  He started the ballet folklorico club and took any of us who were interested to see university campuses.  Many of us continued our studies and among us are teachers, school administrators, and college presidents.  Thanks to this man, who took the time to encourage me and even got my sister and I our first jobs as college aides, I continued to dream.

Yet the person who truly helped me the most was my husband.  He was a teacher, and when I married him, he became my support.  I attended school at night because I was a young mother.  My husband Rogelio would take over parenting duties so that I could reach my dream.  The day after I had our first daughter, along with the car seat, he also brought a letter from Long Beach State and told me I could now transfer and pursue my dream.  That kind of support and belief gave me the strength to never give up.  It took seven more years to finally have my own classroom.


I am truly living my dream every day!

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Christian J. Rubalcaba

Christian Rubalcaba3

Christian J. Rubalcaba
5th Grade Writing Teacher in San Jose, CA

Christian J. Rubalcaba leads 5th grade classes as a Writing Teacher at Selma Olinder Elementary School (a TK-5th school) in the San Jose Unified School District. Christian entered the classroom rather unconventionally: once poised to pursue law school and simultaneously earn a doctorate in history, attendance to a number of events and speeches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education allured his attention, a moral awakening, which thus compelled him to plunge into the education sector via Teach for America in 2010. Guided by a blazing urge to serve Latino school communities and armed with a passion to stir the minds of young ones, Christian—or “Mr. R” as many of his students endearingly call him—has shared his love for poetry, literature, history, speech, law, and the written word since then. Christian believes in the power of parent engagement to help mold socially and civic-minded students and, effectively, he utilizes this very conviction as his impetus to visit the homes of all his students during the first month of each school year, in a classroom program dubbed “Mr. R’s Home-to-School Connection.” Furthermore, Christian serves as a representative on his school’s Leadership Team, as a voting member on his district’s Voluntary Integration Plan (VIP) committee that advises the Board of Education, and as a BTSA coach for entering new teachers. He has been nominated for Teacher of the Year Award the past four consecutive years. A Chicago native and Harvard graduate, Christian received his bilingual teaching credential from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA in 2011 and continues to work toward earning his National Board Certification through a National Board support group at nearby Stanford University.

Why do you teach? I teach because the multifaceted nature of an educator’s role, especially in an urban school setting: I can become a positive catalyst and exact change in a variety of ways, not only as an educator, but also as a school-parent liaison, as a community leader, as a college adviser, and as a role model, to name a few.

What do you love about teaching? I love teaching because of the direct and daily opportunity I have in empowering, inspiring, and challenging students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Yes; I vividly remember one of my high school AP Calculus teachers, Mrs. Delaney–a rare human being–who cared wildly about her students and taught with an uncommon brand of passion.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Mauro Diaz


Mauro Diaz

Casper, WY

Mauro Diaz is a National Board Certified Teacher currently teaching Life Science at Dean Morgan Middle School in Casper, Wyoming. He was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. After completing a BA in English at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX, Diaz began a business career in Wyoming as manager of a manufacturing operation. After several years, he chose to pursue a career with greater personal meaning. Diaz obtained a BS in Biology from the University of Wyoming and, in 2002, was selected for the New York City Teaching Fellows program where he began his teaching career through an alternative certification process. He has focused his career at the middle school level. As a fellow, he taught seventh grade math and science at IS 162 in the South Bronx while completing a MS in Science Education. Diaz taught at IS 162 for 3 years before returning to Wyoming in 2005 to assume his current position.

Mauro believes strongly in the value of highly qualified teachers who work in the context of a large supportive environment as the means to helping students reach their potential.

Mauro’s personal achievements include National Board Certification in 2011 and the establishment of the Wyoming Education Summit in 2012 as a platform for National Board Certified teachers to discuss effective teaching and improving education in Wyoming. Mauro was a 2013-2014 Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. Mauro is currently serving on the board of directors for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Mauro also contributed to the development of the Teacher Leadership Competencies.

Why do you teach? I teach because an education is life giving.

What do you love about teaching? I love teaching middle school students because they are fun and willing to work hard.

Is there a teacher you had who inspired you? When I was a student I had two teachers who inspired me. My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Baca who continually encouraged me to believe in myself and my eight grade teacher, Mrs. Maddox who had our class create a geometric art project in math class.

Letter from Marc Anthony

Image of Marc Anthony: Singer, Songwriter, Actor, and Producer

It is my pleasure to welcome you to Meadow Homes Elementary School for “The Value of Arts Education: A Conversation with Students and Parents”. Today you will hear from extraordinary Latino leaders who will share their incredible journeys of hard work, perseverance, and passion through and for the arts. You will also learn about why it is now, more than ever, critical for everyone—from educators and policy makers to celebrities and business leaders—to come together to support continued investments in arts education across the country.

As a singer, songwriter, actor, and producer, I am deeply committed to ensuring the transformation taking place here, at Meadow Homes, and on a grander scale, the work the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities is championing through the Turnaround Arts Initiative. Engagement in music and the arts is critical to every child’s education.

We live in a country where 3.9 million elementary school students do not have access to arts classes and 1.3 million students do not have access to music classes. This inequity is part of what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls “the civil rights issue of our generation”. It is about equity and opportunity. We know that access to an arts education positively impacts the educational outcomes of our most vulnerable youth. A higher participation rate in the arts, for historically disadvantaged students, is associated with lower dropout rates, higher test scores, and increased school attendance.

I am convinced that an education that also leverages the arts will undoubtedly lead to higher student success, especially for Latinos. I am a strong believer in the importance of an arts education and this is why I decided to become a Turnaround Arts Artist. Students need to believe in themselves and know that they will succeed if they work hard. An arts education promotes this mentality and allows students to truly see themselves as our future leaders. I am happy to know I am not alone in my efforts. First Lady Michelle Obama has also recognized how arts education has the power to transform youth. The First Lady and I agree that the cognitive skills that an art education instills in our youth are not only valuable in a studio or theater, but they can also positively impact a child’s experience in classroom and eventually their workplace.

I want to thank the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics for hosting this conversation today and making the efforts to ensure our Latino community has the access and opportunities to excel in their academic and personal lives. To the educators and leaders at Meadow Homes, thank your for your continued leadership and vision. To the students in the audience—never lose sight of your dreams, keep working hard, and lean on your parents and the network around you to succeed and persist through any challenges that come your way. You are the bright spots of your generation and I am proud to support you. I am sorry I cannot join you today but I look forward to our work together. Best wishes for a productive and fantastic session!

The Importance of an Arts Education

When it comes to arts education, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledges its value and the significant part it plays in a well-rounded education, especially for disadvantaged students who are less likely to have access to arts instruction. He recently said that an “arts education is also essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy. And the arts are valuable for their own sake. They empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works. Creating by doing is a uniquely powerful way to learn.”

For Carla Dirlikov, a professional opera singer, an arts education is fundamental. On August 27 and 28, 2014, Carla joins the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) at “The Value of an Arts Education: A Conversation with Students and Parents Town Hall” at Meadow Homes Elementary, an arts turnaround school in Concord, CA and at the National Policy Forum on Music and the Arts in Emeryville, CA. Together, they aim to highlight the benefits of an arts education for all students, in particular for Hispanics.

“I learned an opera singer could be a role model and someone who makes a difference in the world.”

Growing up with first generation immigrant parents from different cultures – father was Bulgarian and mother was Mexican – was not easy. Although her parents didn’t speak a common language, they shared a common love for music, specifically opera. Some of her earliest memories are of listening to tapes of symphonies and operas and translating for her parents between Spanish and Bulgarian.

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Alvin Valley Pays It Forward

Q&A with Latino Leader on Education, Arts and Mentorship

On Alvin Valley August 27 and 28, 2014, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) will host “The Value of an Arts Education: A Conversation with Students and Parents Town Hall” at Meadow Homes Elementary, an arts turnaround school in Concord, CA and the National Policy Forum on Music and the Arts in Emeryville, CA. The Initiative aims to highlight the benefits of an arts education for all students, in particular for Hispanics. Research shows that an education in and through the arts prepares students to learn, facilitates student academic achievement, and increases motivation and persistence for those most at risk of failing or dropping out of school to develop creative capacities for lifelong success. It is critical that Hispanic students are provided with a well-rounded education, complete with high-quality arts programs and comprehensive arts course offerings, to prepare them to meet the global demands of the 21st century workforce. The events will bring together experts, educators, practitioners, policymakers, business, philanthropy, and community leaders to further the awareness and investments of music and arts education as a reform strategy for educational student success.

One key leader working to highlight the importance of arts education and mentors for Hispanics is Alvin Valley, prominent fashion designer based in New York City also know as “The King of Pants”. I sat down with Alvin recently to learn about his journey, work, and efforts to support arts education and advance the call for more mentors in the Latino community. Below are excerpts of our conversation:

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A Latina’s Perspective on My Brother’s Keeper

As a Latina student who is pretty engaged on education issues I was generally familiar with the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative from a distance. Upon joining the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) as a policy and communications intern this summer, I came to fully realize and appreciate the magnitude of what this historic effort meant for me, my family, and millions of other Latinos across the country. I’ve learned many things since then—one of them being the immense value an initiative such as MBK has and what it means for future generations of Latinos, both males and females.

Blog #3It was not until I learned the sobering statistics about the significant gender gap between Hispanic males and females that I understood the weight and implications of not doing anything – of being satisfied with the status quo. Indeed, this gap follows Latino males from Pre-K through to high school and beyond. In 2009, among Latinos enrolling in college, 61 percent were women and 39 percent were men. Data also shows that Latino males have a higher risk of being disciplined in preschool, suspended or expelled in grades K-12, imprisoned, or unemployed—all of which steer them away from reaching their full potential and ensuring our country’s success.

When I envision these Latino males, the faces of my father, my brother, and my nephew appear in my mind. Without statistics at hand, I couldn’t put those numbers into perspective and paint a picture of the dismal life circumstances that many young men of color, including the Latino males in my family, face. The reality is that I live in a world where the people who I love most are at risk for becoming another statistic—if they haven’t already become one. I know the hardships of my father’s past, including not finishing college and imprisonment, and I understand the struggles my nephew will face in overcoming the challenges associated with living in a low-income household. Despite this newfound understanding of their reality, my reason to hope for a better future is tremendous.

President Obama fully realizes the dire state that all young men of color, including Latinos, might face—and while the urgency for reform is at an all-time high—he is making great strides to create a better future for all families, especially those most in need. There are currently incredible efforts being made to change the systems that have made these statistics a part of our reality in the Latino community. With the launch of MBK, President Obama hopes to help close the educational and opportunity gaps that many young men of color in this country face and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. The efforts of this initiative, including a call for more mentoring and skill-building, will end up changing the lives of millions of young people, including young men of color and their families.

This summer I was able to see some of the most passionate advocates for education reform, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools Mike Casserly, Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, and Deputy Director of the WHIEEH Marco Davis, come together in a boardroom one morning to discuss new private commitments in support of MBK. School districts and private sector corporations announced new private commitments to tackle the issues affecting all of our youth, including our young boys and men of color. The commitments made are powerful—companies like the NBA, AT&T, and Citi Foundation have pledged to provide the resources needed for social reform of this scale to take place. These private companies collectively have promised $100 million, and additionally 60 of the nation’s largest public school systems have committed to implement evidence-based plans to reduce dropout rates among other harrowing statistics. When these plans are put into action, we can continue to change the systems that our communities are struggling to maneuver through.

The scale of these commitments is unprecedented, and it is something to applaud. As Latinas, we should not hesitate to support efforts that will uplift not only our brothers, fathers, sons, and nephews, but all Americans. We must support each other through this journey of reforming society and continue our work in solidarity so that lasting change can reach all Americans, including people like my nephew and the generations of Latinos that will come after him.

As my internship comes to an end, I am deeply encouraged that the WHIEEH has placed a key emphasis on My Brother’s Keeper and will continue to move the needle forward ensuring the educational attainment for our Hispanic community—nuestra comunidad.

Written by Gladys Rosario, rising junior at University of California, Berkeley and summer intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics


Drawing the Right Lessons from Vergara

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Sometimes conflict is the starting point on the path to progress.

That’s one of two possible ways events could play out in the wake of Vergara v. California,a court case that is driving enormous debate throughout the education world.

Brought on behalf of nine public school students, the Vergara case argued that California’s laws on teacher tenure and placement violate the right to an education in the state constitution. The lawsuit claimed that minority and low-income students are deprived of effective teachers by state laws that, in essence, award lifetime employment to teachers after as little as 18 months, and that require layoffs on the basis of seniority.

Last week, a judge agreed, saying these laws deprive students of their civil rights. The decision affirmed the fundamental duty to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, family income or skin color, receive a quality education – starting with an effective teacher.

The question is, what happens now?

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