Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Spanish Immersion Teacher in Takoma Park, MD

Mari is a dedicated and passionate educator. She currently teaches in the Spanish Immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary school as a first grade teacher. Both of her parents are from the island of Dominican Republic. Although Mari was born and raised in the United States, her family maintained a strong sense of their heritage and culture to ensure a purposefully balance within in their home. Mari’s Dominican-American upbringing would later help her draw from her own experiences as a second language learner. It would help her to connect and reach her future students who would also face the challenge of learning a new language within the school arena. Mari attended Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, MD and received her B.A. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. She has served as a grade level team leader, co-leader for a boys mentoring program, and a tutor for the Commonweal Foundation an after school program which provides individualized literacy instruction for students who meet financial need criteria. Even during the weekends you will find Mari working with young children mentoring for young girls ages 5-16.

What inspired you to teach? I still remember my Kindergarten teacher and it was a pleasant memory. After learning all of the colors and identifying them by sight, I was given the opportunity to go in front of the class and hold up the color flash cards for students to recall. I was now helping my fellow classmates learn the colors. That was a powerful moment! It seems simple and most children could easily allow that memory to fade, but not only did it wake up a desire within, it changed me. I believe it was at that moment that I fell in love with teaching. Unbeknownst to my teacher, and myself at the time, that moment opened up my inner desire to keep on learning. I would continue learning so that I could share my knowledge with others. This teacher had found the code to unlock a shy and apprehensive student. Ever since then, I have wanted to recreate those moments and opportunities with as much frequency as possible to anyone I came in contact with, especially little ones. Today as a first grade teacher, I look to create that moment everyday for my students. I am not necessarily looking for the exact outcome that I received but I push to foster learning opportunities that lead to “aha moments, light bulbs going off, moments where persistence pays off, and moments of accomplishments and satisfaction at the end of the day. My students engage in meaningful class discussions, partner discovery, group work, fun and sharing, I also constantly seek to foster an emotionally safe classroom. I believe in empowering and encouraging my students to return to school the next day and do it all over again.

Why teach in the immersion program? As a child I remember my mother telling me how great it was that I was learning to read, write and speak English but that it was also equally important that I read, write and speak in my native language, Spanish. In conjunction with speaking Spanish in the home, every night my mother would read the Bible to us in Spanish. We would engage in great family discussions and Q&A and boy did it pay off. Up until my senior year of college I had never heard of immersion programs. When I was presented with the opportunity to join Montgomery County Public Schools and teach in my first language, I wasted no time in accepting the challenge. As I inquired more about the program, I learned that my future students would learn the language through the content areas of math and science. A majority of my students come from homes where English is the primary language. Many families have made the intentional decision to enroll their children in the program so that they would not only acquire a new language but learn an experience and value different cultures. When I see and hear my young students searching for the words and phrases to express themselves and their feelings, I am able to emphasize and apply not only the correct strategies I have learned as an educator but exercise patience and encourage them along the way.

Engaging Families, Ensuring Education Success: A Back-to-School Tour with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

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

In Springdale, Arkansas, the Hispanic population grew by more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2011, largely driven by the arrival of mostly Hispanic immigrants. The school district’s public school population is now 44 percent Hispanic, and its English Learner population is also 44 percent of students. The city has done a remarkable job of embracing their newest community members and ensuring that all students and families are supported.

As part of ED’s Back-to-School Bus Tour, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) visited Springdale to learn about the city’s community integration efforts. For the visit, WHIEEH collaborated with the Cisneros Center for New Americans, an organization that works to accelerate the integration of new Americans into American society. One stop was at an early childhood center where newly enrolled families pose for portraits that are placed in the classroom, to help ease the child’s transition and alleviate separation anxiety. Coffee sessions between new and veteran parents help familiarize families with the center and the community.

Another stop included the Turnbow Elementary School family literacy program where parents attend English language classes and scheduled PAC or “Parent and Child” time, in which parents join their children in class. They also learn about other subjects, including safety and financial assistance, from community partners such as the police and fire departments and local banks.

A mother described the program’s impact on her and her daughter: “When I signed up for this program, I saw my daughter with a huge smile, so I know it really mattered to her that I was in it,” she said.

At the Language Academy at Har-Ber High School, newly arrived students write their aspirations on classroom walls. These not only remind students to work hard, but they also provide instructors with daily reminders of their own role in helping all students reach their full potential.

The Academy has served to support integration into the larger community.

“The Language Academy helped me communicate with other people,” one student said. “At first, I didn’t know the basics …and now I’m in a regular class. I know all the things that the teacher tells me, and how they teach me and help me so much.”

A town hall for leaders from throughout the community provided context for the school district’s work. Superintendent Jim Rollins provided an overview of the district’s comprehensive efforts and a panel of experts discussed best practices on immigrant integration.

“Education is the great equalizer – quality education is accessible to immigrant families in Springdale,” said Professor William Schwab, University of Arkansas.

Throughout the tour, it was evident that efforts to break down language barriers and motivate students to succeed in and out of the classroom are making a difference.

Springdale’s family engagement and integration vision and efforts were recognized in aRace to the Top-District grant award in 2013. The program helps localities develop plans to personalize and improve student learning, increase educational opportunities, and provide resources that lead to a high-quality learning experience.

The program has enabled Springdale to provide 100 additional preschool slots to the community’s children and draw up plans to expand their family literacy program to each of their 30 schools.

The commitment to immigrant integration through family engagement is in the soul of the Springdale community. Superintendent Rollins put it best: “Those are the kind of things that can happen when you embrace children and help them find their true potential and promise.”

Emmanuel Caudillo is a Special Advisor for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Natalie A. Morales

Natalie Morales

Natalie A. Morales, EdD

Science High School Teacher in Newburgh, NY

Dr. Morales has spent fourteen years teaching Biology and more recently, Human Anatomy and Physiology, at Newburgh Free Academy, where she began her teaching career as a student teacher. In addition to teaching, she has spent time aligning her course curricula and developing new curricula for a course integrating science and technology. Dr. Morales has been selected to participate in numerous building level and union committees and trainings. She has served as a turnkey trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, classroom management skills, and the Common Core State Standards within her school. Dr. Morales recently began mentoring student teams conducting independent research utilizing network science as part of the Newburgh Free Academy’s NetSci High research program in affiliation with West Point’s Network Science Center. She is currently serving on Newburgh Free Academy’s High School Steering Committee which has been tasked with researching and developing an implementation plan for the creation of two independent high schools.

Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the State University of New York at New Paltz which earned her certification as a 7-12 Biology/General Science teacher. She returned to the State University of New York at New Paltz to earn her Master’s of Science in Education in Literacy Education which granted her Literacy Certifications in grades Birth-5 and 6-12. Dr. Morales also earned a professional degree for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Educational Administration which allowed to become certified as a School Administrator and Supervisor and a School District Administrator. She recently completed her Doctorate in Education in Instructional Leadership at Western Connecticut State University where she conducted a study comparing high school students’ and their teachers’ perceptions of factors affecting academic achievement and underachievement.

Dr. Morales was selected to the Class of 2013-2014 as a Phi Delta Kappa International Emergent Leader. As a PDK Emergent Leader, she served as the teacher advisory committee member, in Washington, DC, for the 2014 PDK Gallup Poll and reviewed applications for Phi Delta Kappa International’s Duncan Scholarship awarded to graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees. Her Ed Profile was also featured in PDK’s Kappan magazine. Dr. Morales was also designated a New York State Master Teacher in STEM. She was one of twenty-six STEM teachers in Mid-Hudson, NY selected to into the first cohort of Master STEM teachers in New York State where she will be spending the next four years working towards the improving the integration of STEM and STEM careers within the classroom.

Dr. Morales is an active member within the New York State United Teachers union and Newburgh Teachers Association where she served was a former head delegate and is a current delegate of Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. She also serves as a delegate representing the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Teachers at the New York State Teacher Retirement System Delegate meetings. Dr. Morales is also a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Phi Delta Kappa.

Why do I teach? I teach because I have a heart for and towards my students.. I teach because I want to pass on all that I know to those who will listen both in and out of the classroom so that they, too, can become more informed and educated.

What do you love about teaching? I love to see my students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy blossom and grow over the course of the year as they acquire and apply their biological knowledge to real world applications.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, exuded heart and passion when she taught which allowed for a positive teacher-student relationship to develop grounded in motivation and care.

A Latina’s Perspective: Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Latino Leaders

Cross-posted from the MIND Research Institute blog

At six years old, I faced an unfamiliar culture, a new language, and insurmountable unknowns when I reunited with my family in Houston, TX after leaving El Salvador. Although my father only completed the second grade, he made sure that education was my top priority. My parent’s lack of a formal education and knowledge of the English language thwarted their capacity to support my academic experience, yet they were always engaged.

The early years were difficult but I persisted. Fortunately, my high school classmates introduced me to the importance of college preparedness and a college education. Through hard work, determination, and continuous effort, I graduated 3rd out of 747 seniors in my high school, earned my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, and am a Cancer Biology Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I must admit that without the mentoring of my peers and the emotional support from my parents, I wouldn’t have achieved a higher education.

Currently, I have taken a break from my studies to serve as a policy intern at the White House Initiative on the Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative), to help assess the state of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education of Hispanic students in the U.S. This topic is close to my heart as I am on the verge of achieving something I never imagined possible.

As a six-year-old ESL student, I couldn’t fathom the idea of one day becoming a cancer scientist. Growing up, I enjoyed STEM courses although I didn’t quite understand their impact on my education. I did however realize that something was amiss; there were very few Hispanic students in my AP math and science courses. In fact, this observation followed a trend in which the higher my education attainment was, the fewer Hispanic students joined me in the classroom. This, along with the lack of a Hispanic STEM mentor to advise and guide me through college, was disheartening to experience.

As a result, it became engrained in my mind that other Hispanic students did not care about education and even less about STEM careers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Hispanics represent 23 percent of students enrolling in STEM majors – comparable to their White counterparts. For the first time in history Hispanics are graduating in higher numbers than ever (76 percent), have cut the drop-out rate in half over the last decade (14 percent compared to 28 percent in 2000), and enrolling in college at higher rates than their White counterparts (69 percent in the class of 2012 compared to 67 percent, respectively). Despite these positive trends, only 16 percent of Hispanics complete their STEM Bachelor’s degree compared to 30 percent of their White counterparts Thus, this feeds into the lack of Hispanic presence in the STEM workforce.

At the postsecondary level, Hispanic students are not prepared to acclimate to new curriculum structures, diverse communities, and even the weed-out nature of STEM introductory courses. These new challenges, accompanied by academic underperformance, discourage Hispanic students from completing STEM majors. In addition, the financial status of Hispanic students, either the lack of financial aid or the need to support their families, is detrimental to the completion of challenging and time-demanding STEM majors.

And while ensuring more minorities, including Hispanics, are provided access to rigorous courses starting early in elementary school, there needs to be a collective effort on behalf of high schools and postsecondary institutions to support their enrollment, persistence, and success in STEM careers. Currently, 66 percent of Hispanic students enroll in community colleges, providing these institutions with a critical opportunity to retain, graduate, or successfully transfer them to 4-year institutions where they can pursue their bachelor’s degrees in STEM.

The challenges Hispanic students face start long before they enroll in college. While the numbers of Hispanic students enrolling in AP courses and exams in high school are at their highest, no STEM course is within the top 5 AP courses they take. Still, only 30 percent of Hispanic students with the potential to participate in AP classes actually enroll in them. Similarly, in spite of increasing numbers of Hispanic students taking college-entrance exams, only 1 in 7 Hispanics met all four college-readiness benchmarks, indicating a low chance to succeed in first-year college courses. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reports that only 67 percent of Hispanic students have access to a full range of STEM courses (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) in high school. This, along with cognitive and socio-cultural factors, attitudes/perceptions, institutional variables, and college experiences influence the representation and retention of Hispanic students in STEM majors.

As the fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics are projected to represent 70 percent of the nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. Thus, it is deeply encouraging to see a new movement taking shape towards supporting and mentoring minorities, and women and girls, into STEM fields. US2020, responding to the White House’s call for action to engage students in STEM, makes STEM mentorship accessible to girls, minorities, and low-income students in order to reinforce a quality STEM education suitable for STEM careers.

Further, the Obama Administration established the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to aid Hispanics in Pre-K-12th grade transition to a postsecondary education and into the STEM workforce through strategies that bring together federal agencies, communities, stakeholders, schools, and students.

Finally, addressing the important financial barriers for Latino families, the Initiative created the¡Gradúate! Financial Aid Guide to Success, which provides key information on resources to finance a STEM education. With the great strides Hispanics are currently making in education, it is imperative for us all to get involved now in order to create a sustainable environment for our students to become the next generation of fruitful contributors to the STEM workforce, the economy, and the collective success of our nation.

Sobeyda Gomez is a Ph.D. Candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. During the Summer of  2014, she was a Policy Intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics where she worked on the Initiative’s STEM portfolio

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Selina Alonzo


Selina Alonzo

English High School Teacher in Phoenix, AZ

For eleven years Selina Alonzo Helton has represented an outstanding commitment to children and families in her community. As an English teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, Mrs. Alonzo Helton demonstrates a love of learning and a passion for her profession.   She was named her district’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, and was also honored in 2010 with the Esperanza Award given by Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc.  As a community member, Selina represents urban families by serving on the Board of Directors for The Neighborhood Center, through Neighborhood Ministries and also through volunteering.  As an expression of their faith, Selina and her husband Phillip are committed to working for justice by living, teaching, serving and fellowshipping in the Calle 16 neighborhood of downtown Phoenix. In 2012, Selina was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? I have a bulletin board in my room labeled, “The Reasons I Teach” it has pictures of students that span 11 years. I teach because of them and for them. They are worth the effort.

What do you love about teaching? I love the opportunity to impact and motivate youth. I love that I play a role in shaping hearts, minds and the future of this country through education.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I have had so many AMAZING teachers. I am fearful to make a list because I know I will leave someone out, but Sallie Chalfin, Sharon Bernero, Jose Arenas, DeeDee Falls, Lynn Palacios and Pat Robinson are the ones that stand out the most. What’s true about all of them is they all told me that I would be something someday and they believed and pushed me into success. As an adult I am still a student and I have been greatly impacted by Dr. Kent Scribner. He has invested in me and challenged me to always be the best version of myself. Furthermore I have had the opportunity to learn while teaching alongside powerhouses like Reyna Huerta, Alaina Adams, Pam Ramsey, Gerald Neal, Carrie Deahl, Edie Fluker, Gayle Deaver, Judy Laufer, Dr. Robert Turley and Dana Cook. These colleagues teach me daily.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Mathematics High School Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

Octavio Alvarez is a mathematics teacher at Brawley Union High School where he has been teaching traditional and bilingual mathematics for 12 years. Mr. Alvarez graduated from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California with a major in Civil Engineering, but decided to pursue a career in teaching. During his time at Brawley Union High School, Mr. Alvarez has improved the academic outcomes for Southern California English Language Learners, and has equipped his students with the knowledge to succeed after high school. In 2012 Mr. Alvarez was recognized by the California Association for Bilingual Education for his contributions to improving the English Learner Mathematics Program as well as improving student outcomes on the California Standards Tests and California High School Exit Examination. That same year, he was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? Teaching is a passion for me. It enables me to transfer all of the knowledge and wisdom I have gained over the years to my students.

What do you love about teaching? I cherish the opportunity to inspire and help students who have typically had difficulties with the educational system. I want to help my students succeed and prepare them for real life experiences after high school.  I also love teaching because it enables me to give back to my community.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Absolutely yes. When I was a student in Mexico, I admired my math teacher because he had a lot of wonderful strategies to teach us math concepts. He liked to use many real life examples and infuse humor into his lessons that made the environment feel very comfortable. In fact, while I teach math I emulate techniques used by Mr. Cerda, my old math teacher.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Vivian Gonzalez

Vivian Gonzalez

Music Teacher in Miami, Florida

Vivian Gonzalez began studying the violin at age 5. At age ten, Ms. Gonzalez made her solo debut with the former Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida.  She is a proud product of Miami Dade County Public Schools Magnet Programs and community music organizations. As a professional violinist, Ms. Gonzalez has performed for heads of state including former president Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. She has also performed with numerous South Florida orchestras including the Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Pops, New World Symphony, and can be seen on “Ray Charles – In Concert”, a benefit for Lighthouse for the Blind Miami aired on P.B.S.  Wanting to give back to the community that gave so much to her, Ms. Gonzalez became a Miami-Dade County Public School music teacher in 1999.  Currently, Ms. Gonzalez is a 2014 Grammy Music Educator Award Top-Ten Finalist teaching general and magnet music at South Miami K-8 Center. She also serves as the NAfME IN-Ovations Council Southern Representative, the FL-ASTA Awards Chair, and is a member of the editorial committee for the International Journal of Music Education: Practice.

Why do you teach? I teach because as a child my teachers were my angels, role models, and inspiration. I count myself truly blessed to be a product of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Magnet Programs and the surrounding community music organizations. I was raised by a teenaged-mom who would travel to the ends of the earth, in car, bus or on foot, to make sure that her daughters had every opportunity she could find for them and a Cuban-exile father who worked two and three jobs to provide for his family. My parents taught me to work hard, push myself, never take things for granted and to always be appreciative and humble. My music teachers taught me wonder, imagination, self-confidence, perseverance, community, and introduced me to the magic and joy of self-expression through music.

What do you love about teaching? Touching the lives of the students I teach is what I love most about teaching. Every day I am given the opportunity to positively impact the lives of the children in my class through music and show each of them that they can do and learn anything they put their minds to, as long as they are willing to work hard for it.  Music allows children to enter into a world of wonder, imagination and self-expression while also giving students the opportunity to learn risk-taking, accepting critique, discipline, focus, persistence, dedication, and perseverance. Music is a way of understanding and experiencing the world. Every day I look forward to sharing the world of music with my students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I was very fortunate to have many great teachers surrounding me from kindergarten to college. Every music teacher I had went above and beyond to help me continue my musical growth. Ms. Traeger, my very first music teacher in Kindergarten told my mom about a music magnet pull out program. She was generous enough to know about a special program and encourage my mother to have my sister and I audition for it. Mr. Mink, my first magnet music teacher, was a cultivator of magic. Judy Frishman, my first violin teacher, taught me for free for six years and arranged for Ms. Barbara Duffy to loan me instruments, because my family could not afford it. John Delancie made sure that I was given violin lessons through New World School of the Arts from sixth grade on. Dr. Lee Stone, my junior high string magnet teacher, drove me to New World School of the Arts when I was just in seventh grade to make sure that I played with their college level orchestra . Felicia Moye, who is basically my violin mom, did more things for me that I can possibly write. The Miami String Quartet took me under their wing and even let me travel with them from time to time. Margaret Pardee, who is my violin grandma, introduced me to the high expectations of the Juilliard School and wrote countless letters to me, especially after Hurricane Andrew to make sure that I was ok and still practicing. Pinchas Zuckerman graciously let his biggest, although at the time I was probably his shortest, fan play for him when I was just a teenager no less than four times. South Florida Youth Symphony made it possible for me to have played in Carnegie Hall, Miami Children’s Choir made it possible for me to sing in the children’s chorus of three operas, and the former Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida hosted my solo debut when I was ten. What more can one person hope for from a public and community music education? With so many teachers being so much more than “just teachers” it’s no wonder that I became one myself.


Progress in Action: Celebrating Hispanic Educational Achievement

Crossposted from the President Obama and the Hispanic Community blog.

The following article was published on Univision.com. You can read the original article in Spanish HERE.

Each year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize and celebrate the rich histories and significant contributions made by Hispanics throughout this great nation. With over 54 million people, Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. From preschool to postsecondary education, Hispanic representation is palpable. Hispanics now make up the majority of students in our public schools, with 1 out of every 4 students in K-12 grades. Similarly, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group.

Earlier this year the President said that 2014 would be a “year of action”. In this spirit, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) officially launched our “Anniversary Year of Action” – a call to action to expand upon the progress and achievement made in Hispanic education.

As a community, we have made significant progress. According to the Census Bureau (2011), the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.The  Hispanic graduation rate has increased to 76 percent – an all-time high. College enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

We recognize there is more work to do and that it’s a shared responsibility—everyone will have a role to play in ensuring the continued success of our community. Over the coming year we will highlight “Bright Spots” that are providing a quality early childhood education, robust and rigorous K-12 education experiences, supporting increased participation in STEM courses, promoting promising practices, partnerships, and institutions of higher education that are graduating more Latinos ready and prepared to enter the competitive workforce, preparing more Hispanics into the teaching profession, while highlighting collaborative efforts supporting our young Hispanic girls and boys through the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper.

We will continue working towards the President’s 2020 goal of once again leading the world in college completion. Over the last 12 months, the Initiative has been deeply committed to amplifying the Administration’s education agenda, building partnerships and expanding commitments to support education for Hispanics, while also highlighting the Hispanic community’s progress. Through a number of activities – from national policy forums and back-to-school tours to webinars and twitter chats – we reached over 100,000 stakeholders around the United States and Puerto Rico. We heard from parents, students, non-profit, state and local government, business and philanthropy leaders, and educators about their work and challenges. Through strategic outreach and engagement, we learned that the Hispanic community is not only making great strides but eager to reframe the narrative.

We look forward to building on previous successes and producing more helpful tools like our “¡Gradúate! A Financial Aid Guide to Success”, published this May. The bilingual guide – designed to help students and families navigate the college enrollment and financial aid process includes key information about federal financial aid resources available and on scholarships supporting all Hispanic students, including those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and non-U.S. citizens. We will continue to work towards increasing the number of Hispanic teachers through innovative strategies, such as our #LatinosTeach social media campaign launched this month.

And just this Monday, the White House, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, honored Latino Educators “Champions of Change” who are doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans. These Champions have distinguished themselves by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities. The event showcased these leaders and the exceptional contributions to this country. Because, we know that by highlighting progress in action, we will ensure a bright future for the Hispanic community.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Elaine Romero


Elaine Romero

Teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools, NM

As a high school student, Elaine had dreams of being a teacher but lost confidence in herself as a Latina surrounded by a predominantly White student body. However, she was able to regain her confidence and earn a Master’s in Education from the University of New Mexico. Her goal is to ensure no students find themselves in a similar situation but instead retain their confidence to accomplish their dreams. Twenty years after her graduation, Elaine served as a long-term substitute in a small Catholic School. After that she completed an education post-bachelor program and placed herself in high-need classrooms. She currently works with Albuquerque Public Schools to improve teaching in high-poverty, high-minority schools. Her other accomplishments include securing a federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration grant in her first year of teaching. She has also been involved as a Teacher Ambassador Fellowship for the US Department of Education, and worked with Strengthening Quality in Schools, a New Mexico Public Education Department initiative for school improvement. She is also an education policy analyst for the New Mexico Senate and a community activist for creating strong public schools for all children. Elaine is completing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Why do you teach?  I teach because teaching is a social justice profession and one that is essential to preserving American democracy

What do you love about teaching?  What I love about teaching are the relationships that develop with children, my colleagues, and the community – who respect educators.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? There was no single teacher who inspired me as a K-12 student but at the university level, renown Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya was my undergraduate advisor and he helped me understand our history in New Mexico and the Southwest.  Currently, my dissertation chair, Dr. Allison Borden inspires and encourages me daily to stay persistent in completing my dissertation work.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Griselda Diaz


Griselda Diaz

Fourth Grade Teacher in Elk Grove Village, IL

Ms. Diaz has been a District 59 teacher for 14 years and before that was a teaching assistant for 2 years. She obtained her Masters Degree in bilingual education since she knew early on that that was the field she wanted to specialize in. Ms. Diaz being Latina herself, felt the importance of providing our Hispanic students with a positive role model who can relate to them both culturally and academically. Since Day 1, she has been an advocate for her students and best teaching practices for our English Language Learners. Griselda taught 2nd grade for 5 years before pioneering the Title I program at Salt Creek. She had opportunities to work closely with the administration, staff and parents providing them with training and consultation. Ms. Diaz helped launch and taught the first years of the newly revised summer school literacy focused program “Jump Start”. The program was designed to do just that, giving students a jumpstart for the following academic school year. Ms. Diaz enjoyed her 6 years as a reading resource Title I teacher but missed the classroom atmosphere. She returned to the classroom and is currently teaching 4th grade. Griselda enjoys teaching all of the classroom subjects and incorporating literacy instruction throughout the day with her students. Her district’s mission is to prepare students for excellence and success. The teachers and administrators are creating 21st Century classrooms that promote creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. This year all the students K-2 will have their own tablets as a learning resource tool. Students in grades 3-8 will be provided tablets and chrome books. Ms. Diaz has already incorporated technology throughout the day to reinforce her students’ learning and skill. The devices have also been a productive tool for communication with both the students and parents. Ms. Diaz feels that it is an exciting time in her district because she is able to teach her students that there are innovative ways to learn more about a topic and emphasize their own possibilities to become successful lifelong learners are endless.

Why do you teach? As cliche as this sounds, I teach to make a difference. I knew in high school that I wanted to make a positive impact on lives. Teachers have one of the most influential careers because they affect so many students’ lives over the years. Without teachers, we cannot have other professions such as doctors, lawyers, nurses etc. I sometimes think I need to rethink my profession because of its constant demands and hard work. Then I will have a deep or personal conversation with one of my students about problems that they are having at home or school or simply see their excitement about learning and I am reminded why I remain in this teaching profession.

What do you love about teaching? I love teaching because I see the difference I make in my students’ lives. I may not see it instantaneously or even during that school year, but I have had previous students now in High School or College coming to visit me at school and tell me how I made a difference. They may not be able to recall everything they learned that year they were with me, but they remember how I made them feel and how excited they were about learning. I have had returning students who have told me that they are going on to becoming teachers themselves because of me. It is so rewarding to know that I have inspired my students to seek out their own personal calling and to know that they still have a thirst for knowledge.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Growing up, I had 2 teachers that inspired me. I could probably state one or two things I learned those years academically, but I could go on and on about the fun and exciting class projects that inspired my creativity and love for learning.