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4 ways to get more Black and Latino teachers in K-12 public schools

Travis Bristol, Assistant Professor of Education at University of California, Berkeley, shares 4 ways to encourage diversity in public schools. 

Black children are more likely to score higher on standardized tests and finish high school and want to attend college, and less likely to be suspended, if they have a Black teacher. Similarly, studies show that Latino students who have a Latino teacher are more likely to want to take advanced coursework.

This data reflects earlier research on Black and Latino teachers and the positive social and emotional experiences they create for their students.

Education historian Vanessa Siddle Walker writes about how, even before the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision in 1954, Black teachers and principals provided their students with tools and a framework to navigate a society that was anti-Black. And renowned education researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings explains Black teachers’ capacity to draw on their own experiences as Black people in the U.S. and incorporate their Black students’ cultural experiences into the classroom.

Given the added value of teachers of color, a pressing problem remains: There is a considerable demographic mismatch between teachers and students of color in the U.S. While teachers of color represent 21% of public school educators, students of color account for more than 52% of public school students.

As an education researcher, I study the experiences of teachers of color. Here are four ways to get more teachers from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds in K-12 classrooms.

1. Focus on retention

Policymakers, school principals and philanthropies have spent a great deal of resources on recruiting teachers of color. And those efforts have paid off. More Black and Latino teachers are entering the teacher workforce.

The story now is one of retention.

Teachers of color leave the profession and move to other schools at a higher rate than their white peers. An analysis of nine school districts found that Black teachers in particular have higher turnover rates than their white and Latino peers. For example, the number of Black teachers in Chicago Public Schools decreased by 39% between 2002 and 2011, compared to a 3% decrease in white teachers and a 6% increase in Latino teachers during the same period.

2. Improve leadership, work conditions

Historically, researchers believed that teachers in urban schools that predominantly serve children of color left their schools because they did not want to work with those students. But teachers don’t leave their students; teachers leave their principals.

Principals create the working conditions that lead to turnover by not supporting teachers or providing the resources they need to work with their students.

To ensure that principals instead create conditions that help teachers of color thrive, they need high-quality preparation. This preparation should include a focus on how to support new teachers as well as work collegially with students, caregivers and teachers.

Model programs that continue to do this work are The Leadership Academy and the Principal Leadership Institute at University of California, Berkeley.

latino students,

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

3. Fund schools equitably

To retain teachers of color, districts have to improve the working conditions in their schools. One way to do this is to fund schools more equitably.

Some states, like California, have a more progressive, equitable funding formula. That means schools that have a significant number of students who are unhoused, adopted, qualify for free or reduced lunch, or speak English as a second language get more money and resources.

Other states, like New York and Illinois, which are home to some of our country’s largest public school districts, have more regressive funding formulas. Since public schools are primarily funded by local property taxes, students who live in high-income communities across New York State, for example, attend more well-resourced schools than children living in low-income communities. Legal efforts to dismantle this separate and unequal funding system are ongoing.

You might be interested: 3 Latina teachers in their toughest moments face complex cultural challenges

4. Redesign teacher training

The U.S. has a wide variety of teacher preparation programs. There’s no common framework for thinking about how to prepare people to become teachers.

Furthermore, in states like California and Texas, after two months of preparation a new teacher can teach children in historically marginalized communities. Given where these teachers are placed, it is clear that school districts, like Oakland Public Schools, will hire those new educators.

Placing the most inexperienced teachers in schools with the most challenging working conditions increases turnover.

What stands in the way of getting more Black and Latino teachers in classrooms is not a clear understanding of the problem, but the courage to act on what we already know.


[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Travis Bristol, Assistant Professor of Education, University of California, Berkeley

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

teachers, latina teacher, students

3 Latina teachers in their toughest moments face complex cultural challenges

Teresa Sosa, Associate Professor of Education, discusses the complex cultural challenges facing new teachers as she shares the stories of 3 Latina teachers in their toughest moments.

Gun control. Hallway decorations. Hairstyles.

Those aren’t the things I expected to be stumbling blocks for three Latina educators that I helped prepare to become schoolteachers in recent years. But each situation came up in their classroom or in the course of their jobs at various elementary and middle schools in the state of Indiana, where I teach. Their situations are indicative of a time in our society when we are called to more closely pay attention to issues of racism and social justice.

I’m tracking these former students – along with three others – as part of a study I am doing on the first-year experiences of Latina teachers. As an educator who helps prepare future school teachers, I believe these experiences help shine light on some of the expectations that students, parents and school administrators might sometimes have of classroom teachers. Conversely, my research also shows some of the culturally dicey situations that schoolteachers may have to navigate once they get a classroom of their own.

teachers, latina teacher, students

Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels

On a broader level, my research shows the complex interactions that can take place within schools with student bodies that are becoming increasingly diverse.

With that in mind, here are three examples based on the experiences of three former students of mine in their first year of teaching. All names in the following examples are pseudonyms.

Gun control

When Ms. Raymond, a sixth grade social studies teacher, discussed the Second Amendment, Mary, a white female student, expressed her view that Democrats wanted to take everyone’s guns away and that people needed guns in their home for protection.

Ms. Raymond clarified that some people want to see laws passed that make guns less accessible. That same day, Mary’s parents reached out to Ms. Raymond and insisted she meet with them in person. After Ms. Raymond refused to meet in person due to COVID-19 restrictions and her own sense of safety, the parents refused to meet via Zoom or discuss it over the telephone and instead explained their concerns via a messaging app the school uses for teachers and parents to communicate.

Mary’s parents claimed in their messages to Ms. Raymond that Mary felt Ms. Raymond is biased against her opinions and prevents her from stating them by not calling on her. They said Ms. Raymond should allow all students to speak their opinions, even if she doesn’t agree with them, which Ms. Raymond believes she does. They also insisted Ms. Raymond not speak to their child individually because she feels “threatened” by Ms. Raymond. They asked that the homeroom teacher, a white male teacher, be present during any further one-on-one interactions with Mary. The principal agreed that the student should be accommodated in order to make her feel more comfortable.

Ms. Raymond believes this is a move to undermine her position as a teacher. It also serves to uphold the stereotype of Latinas as being loud, hot-tempered and volatile, as indicated in the suggestion that she made the student feel “threatened.”

Hallway decorations

Ms. Sanchez teaches in a school district where the dual language program is prominently featured on the district’s website. And with good reason. The teachers in this program have gone above and beyond to make the students feel welcomed and part of the school community.

Behind the scenes, however, the principal told the teachers in the program – including Ms. Sanchez – that they couldn’t do certain activities, such as decorating the school hallways with student work, unless they involved the other teachers in the same grade level but who are not part of the program. This happened after those teachers – veteran white teachers – complained that they weren’t being invited to participate in dual language program activities. As a practical matter, Ms. Sanchez says this means the dual language program has to involve white teachers who know neither the students nor the program.

latina teachers,

Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels

The irony of the situation, according to Ms. Sanchez, is that the non-Spanish-speaking teachers were always welcome to participate in the dual language program activities – they just didn’t want to stay after school to do it.

In effect, while the district promotes the dual language program on its website to create an image of diversity and inclusion, the dual language program in Ms. Sanchez’s school has little autonomy, and she feels it is subjected to white surveillance and control.

Hairstyles

During a sixth grade science lesson that was fully online due to the pandemic, several Black girls began to comment on the hair of a white student, Amy, because her hair was braided in small cornrows with beads, seemingly in emulation of a hairstyle typically worn by Black girls.

“Ms. Gonzales, do you think Amy is culturally appropriating right now?” one Black female student asked.

Rather than address the matter on the spot, Ms. Gonzales told her students that these types of conversations are important and that they would address it two days later.

teachers, student, online learning

Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels

That day, Ms. Gonzales spoke with her team and the principal. Her team concluded that this is a conversation that obviously matters to their Black female students and that waiting two days to talk to them was too long. The principal agreed, adding that racial equality is a key part of their school and the only way to show students this is by hearing their voices.

She also spoke with Amy, the white student who explained that she just loved her friend’s braids and wanted to style her hair the same way, so she had her aunt do her hair. After watching a couple of videos and reading a book with Ms. Gonzales about Black hair, Amy came to realize how it could offend some of her Black peers. Ms. Gonzales also spoke with Amy’s mother, who was supportive and understood why Black students were offended.

Before getting into the full conversation of cultural appropriation, the class discussed what it meant to “pull people in” kindly to these kinds of conversations and not singling people out. Ms. Gonzales also discussed a bit of how Black women’s hair has been discriminated against, historically as well as in contemporary times.

She also brought in opinions from Black friends and colleagues on how they feel about white people wearing Black hairstyles, as well as Tik Tok videos of persons of color explaining why it’s cultural appropriation or not.

At the end of the meeting, which her mother also attended, Amy decided to make a statement which in part said, “I understand that I had my hair done and it offended some of my peers of color. I love the Black culture and I wanted to respect it. I didn’t know I would be offending the Black culture, and I thought I would be called out in a positive way and not a negative way.”

Ms. Gonzales said she received a lot of backlash from co-workers outside of her team who told her that having such conversations is wrong. Ms. Gonzales defends her actions, saying she sees it as important to provide a space where all students can voice their feelings and learn about issues such as cultural appropriation.

As these three accounts indicate, teachers in their first year of teaching must navigate various concerns – and sometimes concerns that conflict – among parents, students and administrators. Knowing this in advance can help teachers better prepare for the various cultural dilemmas they are likely to face in today’s classroom and beyond.The Conversation

You might be interested: Schools reopen this fall: Is it safe? 


Written by Teresa Sosa, Associate Professor of Education, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

schools reopen

Schools reopen this fall: Is it safe? 

New Jersey announces students will be back for full-time, in-person for the 2021-2022 school year as schools reopen statewide. 

It’s time to say goodbye to virtual learning as schools reopen this fall. According to the official site of the state of New Jersey, schools will be reopening full-time and in-person for the upcoming school year. Schools first closed back in March 2020, when the pandemic began and instruction moved online. Throughout the 2020 – 2021 school year, the majority of NJ schools remained virtual or offered hybrid learning options, with a mix of in-person and virtual students. Now, officials say parents or guardians will not be able to opt children out of in-person instruction for this upcoming school year. 

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

The closing of schools last year led to mixed responses from parents and families. Some welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with their children. Others worried about the quality of their children’s education and wondered if virtual learning would be enough to keep children on track. Many working parents also struggled, juggling homeschooling and working from home. And parents who did not have the luxury to work from home faced the challenge of finding childcare for their children amid the pandemic. 

Now, schools are reopening, and feelings are once again mixed. Some worry that it’s not safe, especially with new, stronger COVID-19 variants spreading quickly across the globe, such as the more contagious Delta variant that has been particularly infectious among the young and unvaccinated–aka the prime population of students. Other parents are glad to see a sense of normalcy return to their children’s lives and routines. 

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, without the option to opt out of in-person learning this year, it is important for NJ parents to familiarize themselves with the new rules, guidelines, and safety precautions that will be in place for students this fall. 

Safety precautions for returning students 

According to NJ.gov, all students, educators, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face masks inside of school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.  Effective Monday, August 9, 2021, masks are required in the indoor premises of all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings, with limited exceptions.

Exceptions to the mask requirement include:

  • When doing so would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors;
  • When the individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
  • When a student’s documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, precludes use of a face covering;
  • When the individual is under two (2) years of age;
  • When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering;
  • When the individual is engaged in high-intensity aerobic or anerobic activity;
  • When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

Additionally, the Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Health, has produced a health and safety guidance document detailing recommendations designed to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff during the 2021-2022 school year.

These strategies are recommendations, not mandatory standards. The absence of one or more of these strategies should not prevent school facilities from opening for full-day, in-person operation.

You might be interested: Reopening schools during Covid-19? Educator and activist Maria Santiago-Valentin weighs in

Vaccinations, social distancing, and more: Will it be enough? 

Alongside the mask mandate, schools will also be enforcing social distancing, promoting vaccinations and testing, and encouraging parents and caregivers to monitor their children for symptoms. 

Vaccinations are currently not required, however strongly encouraged for students and staff who are eligible to be vaccinated. Since most K-12 schools will have a mixed population of fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated individuals at any given time, schools will require the layering of preventive measures to protect individuals who are not fully vaccinated. This will include social distancing within the classroom and an effort to screen and report when children are displaying symptoms. Caregivers are encouraged to actively keep watch of their child’s health and report symptoms to the school. Students who are sick should not attend school until symptoms subside. 

All these precautions are crucial to ensuring the safety of students as they return to full-time, in-person instruction. It is unclear if schools will remain fully open throughout this upcoming school year, however, for now, we can say goodbye to virtual learning as schools reopen for this fall. 

For information on the status of school reopenings in other states, be sure to visit your state’s official website. To check for your state’s mask mandate, see here

spanish children's books

How these personalized Spanish children’s books are helping to raise bilingual children

Maria Victoria Sanchez is the creator and founder of Libro Magico Amarillo, a publishing company that creates personalized Spanish children’s books. Her books offer a mix of adventures and educational content that keep children engaged and reading longer, all while playing and having fun. Her books also serve as a tool for parents raising bilingual children, helping them foster a love and appreciation of Hispanic language and culture in their children. 

Spanish children's books

Maria and her son reading “Adventuras en Troya” (Photo courtesy Maria Victoria Sanchez)

Rediscovering the magic of stories 

Libro Magico Amarillo officially launched in June of this year, but before that it spent 30 years simply being a dream in Maria’s mind. Creating Spanish children’s books was something she always thought of doing but procrastinated for many years, never knowing when was the right time to start. As a child, her mother instilled in her a love for reading and writing. Stories were magical and they became her greatest passion as a child. However, as she grew up, the magic spark receded in her mind. She let her dreams of telling stories fall away to a small corner of her mind where she would think of the idea from time to time but never act on her dream. 

Before Maria would make her book business a reality, she first spent a good portion of her professional life having a successful career in the corporate world. Born in General Roca, Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina, Maria earned her degree in law. After graduating from law school in Argentina, she then came to the U.S. to do her Masters at Harvard Law School. 

“I worked for big names in the corporate world including Greenberg Traurig, JP Morgan, and Mastercard. I got to live in different countries and travel extensively. But with the arrival of my two children, I realized that I was no longer interested in corporate life or business trips,” says Maria. 

With her priorities shifted, Maria did some soul-searching to figure out what she wanted to do next with her career. She was searching for the magic spark. She soon found it in one of her earliest loves: stories. Maria realized that happiness for her also meant doing things that had a social impact. Libro Magico Amarillo would provide her with the platform to do just that. 

Starting from zero

Maria officially began working on making her dream a reality a year ago. At the time she had no knowledge of the industry, e-commerce, or digital marketing. It was completely new territory.

Maria in her office working on her latest projects (Photo courtesy Maria Victoria Sanchez).

“I had to start from zero,” she says, “but I decided that it was now or never and that I did not want to die without having tried to build my own business venture.”

Over the next year, Maria met with illustrators, printers, writers, and delved deep into the amazing world of book publishing. She faced some obstacles along the way, from not having access to lines of credit or a name in the industry to other entry barriers such as the high cost of marketing and having to make tough choices because of limited funds. Then of course there was the Covid-19 pandemic which threatened to halt the process and launch of Maria’s dream venture. 

“The pandemic was not going to stop me,” says Maria. “It has certainly created hiccups, but also it has proven to be an opportunity for connection.” 

Launched on June 6, 2020–what would have been the birthday of Maria’s late mother–Maria’s personalized Spanish children’s books have served as a bridge to connect family and friends during the pandemic. Family members can gather together virtually to read together and share stories, all while helping to foster a child’s bilingual education and growth. 

Sharing the magic with others 

Maria’s driving force through the struggles was her love for books and her desire to make an impact. One of the ways she’s using her platform to help others is by donating a percentage of all new profits to JAFCO, an orphanage that is doing great work for children. The other main area of impact for Maria is in education and sharing the magic of stories with others while also helping parents raise bilingual children and foster an appreciation for Hispanic language and culture. 

bilingual children

Maria Victoria Sanchez, sharing her love of stories with her daughter. (Photo courtesy Maria Victoria Sanchez).

“As a mom, immigrant, raising bilingual children, I bring a new angle to children’s books, focusing on the Spanish language, with stories thought and written in Spanish and not just translated by AI,” says Maria. 

Her books bring Hispanic values and culture to bilingual children and act as an educational tool for parents who want to instill a love and appreciation for their home culture in their children. 

Libro Magico Amarillo’s books keep children engaged and by making the children themselves the protagonists of the stories. The personalized Spanish children’s books allow parents to customize the books with their child’s names and each book is printed on demand so that each child receives a carefully designed adventure personalized just for them! 

The books also cover a variety of topics including history and geography, which allows children to learn as they play. 

Recently, one young reader shared a video with Maria of her reading experience. In the video, the 3 year-old and her mom were reading Adventuras en Troya together for the fourth time and she was so excited and engaged, asking questions about the story. 

“The little one was asking her mom, “Tell me about Menelao!!!” He was the King who was married to Elena, who was kidnapped by Paris, giving origin to the Trojan war. That just made my day,” says Maria. 

spanish children's books

Libro Magico Amarillo’s current Spanish children’s books

Most 3 year-olds are not asking about characters from ancient Greek stories, which just shows the amazing power of reading and storytelling. Libro Magico Amarillo’s books immerse children in fun, educational stories and take them on adventures all over the world–literally, since the books characters are personalized based on the child. 

You might be interested: How MiLegasi’s founder deals with resilience in children during COVID-19

Finally, Maria is also using her platform to uplift other entrepreneurs. During her journey, she had many supportive people to uplift her along the way and she wants to pay it forward. 

“I want to be an advocate for the need to provide more support to local business owners and entrepreneurs who do not have access to the same loans or health insurance as others.” 

Maria knows how beneficial it is to have a strong support system and mentors when starting out. To aspiring entrepreneurs she says, “First, count on me, give me a call! I’m happy to pay it forward. Additionally there are a lot of women networks or alliances of fantastic ladies who are doing the same or have done it before and want to help you. Second, believe in yourself. The sky is your limit. Do not let them tell you otherwise. Third, think of how you want to be remembered. I want to be remembered as someone who was not afraid of a challenge or giving a shot to impossible dreams.” 

 

Reopening Schools

Reopening schools during Covid-19? Educator and activist Maria Santiago-Valentin weighs in

As we near the end of summer, schools across the country are preparing for the start of a new year. But what will this school year look like for students and parents? The central debate among districts, educators, and families is whether reopening schools during Covid will be possible or safe. It may seem like a no-brainer, stay home! But the issue becomes more complicated when you begin to factor in the fact that not all parents have the luxury of being able to work from home during these times. The truth is, many families rely on schools as childcare during the work-week.

Reopening Schools

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The uncertain future of education

Maria Santiago-Valentin is an activist and educator with over 25 years of experience in her field. She is passionate about education, having taught in Puerto Rico, Connecticut, and New Jersey. A life-long learner herself, she knows and values the importance of a quality education.

“Education is a crucial foundation for our youth,” she says. “We need quality education to help younger generations pave the way toward better futures for our society.”

However, the future of education for our youth is currently uncertain as Covid threatens another school year.

Since spring, schools have been getting by through online instruction. This has helped lessen the spread of the virus by keeping student populations distant as they learn remotely from home. But this was never meant to be a permanent solution, and many school districts simply are not equipped to provide long-term online instruction.

“At the beginning I thought it was going to be a three-week lock-down, but it turned longer,” says Maria, reflecting back on the early days of the outbreak back in March. “I continued working for my school remotely during this time, I am a Child Study Team member in a public school. In the evenings I continued with my online classes with Walden University. I am in the last course before starting my dissertation. There were some inconveniences, but I adjusted to the new normal and I am very thankful to God to be here today.”

The debate: reopening schools during Covid

Online education has helped us all stay afloat during these uncertain times, but the big question on everyone’s minds is when will things ‘go back to normal?’

Reopening schools during Covid has brought on a fierce debate. Parents and teachers worry over health and safety, while others also struggle with the harsh reality of having to juggle their careers and parenting. Without schools, many working parents will have no one to look after their children should they have to attend online school.

Working from home

Working parents struggle to juggle their careers and parenting. Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

In a recent press release, New Jersey’s teacher union head said it’s “not plausible” to reopen schools on time in September amid the coronavirus crisis, contending that Garden State’s educators, staff, and administrators don’t have nearly enough time to get ready.

As an educator and champion for Latino families, Maria weighs in on the issue of reopening schools during Covid.

“My take is that there are many issues that need to be taken into consideration,” says Maria. “Covid-19 can easily spike if a school district is not following precautions for children and staff, causing deaths. However, many working families, among them many Latinos, do not have a caregiver nor the money to pay a caregiver to leave their children with while working.”

fighting for education

Maria Santiago-Valentin, Educator and Activist for classroom inclusion and environmental sustainability

Maria has always fought for education, and she is prepared to continue that fight against the threat of Covid-19.

“I am an educator since 1992. I understand some teachers have sick relatives they have to take care of because of Covid-19. I understand we are getting paid with the taxes of working families. I understand we chose this career for the good and the bad. I feel we need to show up to work. Imagine a military not wanting to go to war. Our war is Covid-19. We show up y que Dios nos proteja.”

In the end though, this is a debate that has no clear solution. “Covid-19 is totally unpredictable,” says Maria, “and all the solutions we have are the ones prior to the pandemic. We need a plan for a new, green, sustainable normalcy.”

Fighting for a sustainable future

In addition to her work as an educator, Maria also works with various organizations as an activist and leader. During the pandemic, she was appointed administrator of the ALL Ladies League Chapter in Barcelona of the Women Economic Forum (WEF), Spain. “The WEF is an associate of ALL Ladies League (ALL), the world’s largest All-inclusive international women’s chamber and a movement for the Welfare, Wealth, and Well-being of ALL. As a superhighway of ‘Internet of women’​, ALL is a worldwide web of women’s leadership, friendship and entrepreneurship.”

Maria was appointed the 2020 Chairperson for the ALL New Jersey Chapter for Business Networking and was the recipient of the highest and most prestigious WEF Global Award by the judges of the WEF Bangalore Committee: “Iconic Women Creating a Better World for All.”

Maria’s commitment to making a difference in the world extends to the environment as well. As a devoted climate change advocate, Maria has co-founded the Atlantic Climate Justice Alliance. Founded with 7 other Latinos living in the Diaspora and a member from Trinidad Tobago, the non-profit is an environmental justice organization for humanitarian relief, advocacy, and education purposes.

On the topic of climate change and it’s effect on the pandemic, Maria says there are a couple of intersections within the topics of climate change, environmental justice, and Covid-19.

classroom inclusion environment

Maria Santiago-Valentin, speaker at climate change rallies in New Jersey

“The impact of climate change in communities of color has shown how vulnerable our communities are to Covid-19 with health prevalent conditions that aggravates the situation. Environmental justice issues such as poor water quality, indoor/outdoor air pollution, and poor ventilation increase the spread of the disease. The climate crisis that is changing the intensity of the meteorological systems is intersecting with the public health system and Covid-19. If, in addition, we take into consideration the economic crisis, and the disparities in communities of color, the recovery of those communities is compromised. For example, systems like Isais, storms and fires. Florida had to close the Covid-19 testing sites prior to the storm. These events accelerated by climate change expose the level of preparedness and response our governments and agencies must deal with both circumstances at the same time (Covid-19 and a hurricane).”

These are also the same communities likely to be the most affected by the issue of not reopening schools during Covid. Facing environmental and economic difficulties, these communities will continue to be hit the hardest by the pandemic.

You might be interested: Ojala Threads social entrepreneur supports underserved communities during the pandemic

While there are no definite solutions to these issues, we can only continue to work toward a better future that will help and protect all, including our most vulnerable communities. That is what Maria will continue to do across all her platforms, as an educator, environmental activist, and leader.

Through her experiences during the pandemic, Maria has learned not to take like and routines for granted, since the future is uncertain and “to thank God everyday for the miracle of life.”

fighting for education

Latina activist and educator Maria Santiago-Valentin advocates for classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin is a fierce activist and educator who has used her platform to advocate for classroom inclusion and the environment. A passionate, energetic and creative educator with over twenty-five years of experience in her field, she has taught in Puerto Rico, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and has been recognized for her achievements nationally and internationally. 

Lifelong learning

“Education is a crucial foundation for our youth. Now more than ever we need quality education to help younger generations pave the way toward better futures for our society,” said Maria Santiago-Valentin, one of the many great educators who are fighting for education and advocating for our youth. One of the founding members of CURE  — Community United for the Renaissance in Education– a bilingual parent advocacy group working to improve the educational system in New London, Connecticut and an educator for over twenty-five years, Maria has dedicated her life to the pursuit of knowledge.

“Education is a lifelong experience,” she shares with Latinas In Business. “To achieve success one must acknowledge that they do not know everything.  We need to update our skills and open ourselves to other cultures, to opposition, to failure and strive for classroom inclusion to see what we need to work on internally to be where we want to be in order to have an impact in our field.”

Maria has lived by this motto all her life as one can see by looking at her extensive list of degrees and certifications. Living in Puerto Rico she studied Language, Literature, and Translation in English, Spanish, and French. In 1991 she began her career as an ESL teacher in Puerto Rico where she taught for several years. Later her love of language lead her to the United States where she pursued her second M.A. in French and Francophone Literature at the University of Connecticut which she completed in 2002.

Challenging herself to reach new heights, Maria sought to become a certified Learning Disabilities Consultant / Case Manager and now works at a public high school in New Jersey to help meet the learning needs of students who require extra attention and inclusion in the classroom. 

And with several M.A.’s and certificates under her belt, it is only natural that Maria is now pursuing her Doctorate in Education, specializing in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment. The learning never stops!

Sharing messages with future generations

classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin receives a recognition from Sira Macias Chacon, Human Rights International Commissioner and President, Caminando Juntos por el Cambio in Santiago de Guayaquil, 2018.

“The message and principles we share with the future generations in our homes and our schools is what is going to bring changes and paradigm shifts in society,” says Maria.

This is the core message Maria imparts to others, especially the youth. “In order to advance, there must be continual knowledge and education both at school and in the home. Children must always be learning to become adults who will continue to learn and be open and tolerant to new experiences, cultures, and ideas. Our futures depend on our children, so we must equip them with the necessary tools for success, and that all begins with education,” she affirmed. 

This educational foundation extends to all children regardless of their background or abilities. Always striving for acceptance and inclusion in the classroom, Maria has used her experiences as an educator and Learning Disabilities Consultant to write a book for educators on the topic of mental health. Her book Bipolar Disorder: Etiology and Treatment Overview: Mindfulness, Medication, Digital Psychiatry and Classroom Accommodations explores ways of approaching issues of mental illness in the classroom and how to accommodate for these students so that they may receive the proper attention and care. Maria works diligently as an educator to ensure that all students have the opportunity to receive a quality education as it is the foundation that they will build a lifetime of learning upon.

Her call to advocacy

During her years in Connecticut, Maria first became rigorously involved in the education advocacy community. Working at public schools in New London, Connecticut, Maria saw that there was much work that needed to be done to improve the quality of education. Two of her main areas of focus were to incorporate multilingual programs into schools’ curriculum and to fight for public school funding.

A staunch supporter of multilingual studies—being that she is fluent in Spanish, English and French— Maria has championed for multilingual programs in schools since her time teaching in the New London Public School District. With CURE, Maria helped support local public schools and bring awareness to multilingual studies by organizing a variety of events including parades to the public library, translated events, and community forums.

classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin, Educator and Activist for classroom inclusion and environmental sustainability

From 2004 – 2007 Maria also served as one of the plaintiffs of in the “Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding” which sought to ensure that adequate funding was being “distributed equitably based on student learning needs, fair measures of town wealth, and fidelity to the tax equalization principles underlying the ECS.”

In March of 2015, Maria’s advocacy work was honored with an award presented by the New Jersey Hispanic Newspaper Poder Latino USA, which commended her contributions to improving education in urban public schools and her advocacy and volunteer work in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Environmental activism  

Another issue close to Maria’s heart is protecting the environment. Anyone keeping up with current events will know that our environment is in dire need of help. Environmental crises such as the California wildfires, the increase in devastating hurricanes, and the deadly drops in temperature this winter have shown that our planet is crying out for help. Still the political world is full of debate and controversy over climate change, with deniers holding important positions in office. If education is to ensure that our youths have the knowledge to advocate for change, then environmentalism is to ensure that our youths will have a habitable planet to enact change upon.

classroom inclusion environment

Maria Santiago-Valentin, speaker at climate change rallies in New Jersey

Maria is just as passionate as an environmental activist as she has been for education advocacy. She has worked diligently with organizations and local legislation attending marches, representing projects such as the Climate Reality Project, and speaking publicly about critical issues. In 2016 she spoke alongside Assemblyman John McKeon about new bills passed by the New Jersey State legislature that would make critical steps towards helping the environment.

In 2017 Maria took her activism a step farther, founding the NJ Coalition for Climate Justice, an organization that works to bring together social justice movements with environmental movements. The organization has lead community events, marches, and provided aid to those in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.

Currently Maria serves as Vice-Chair of the NJ Environmental Justice Committee and has worked for OFA (Obama for America/Organizing for Action) as a volunteer for 8 years. Through OFA Maria became a Climate Reality Project Leader, a role that has allowed her to be a mentor to a diverse group of individuals from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey.

Overcoming opposition

As a resilient Latina, Maria has persevered through all the challenges she’s faced over the years in her career. She has never let opposition get in her way of achieving her goals. Still when she came to the U.S. over twenty years ago, she struggled with an issue many immigrants face: she was self-conscious of her accent –despite being fluent in three languages! She worried about the biases people would have toward her when they heard her accent and this lead to an intense fear of public speaking.

She however did not let that fear stop her. “I faced bias, skepticism, and opposition,” she says, “but that did not scare me or make me shy away. That was the fuel that motivated me to continue to prove the skeptics that I was being underestimated.”

She has since made various major presentations at the Learning Disabilities Association of America NJ Chapter, the GSA Forum, and the NJEA Teacher’s Convention and will also be presenting at the NECTFL this year on a talk about Dyslexia and the Foreign Language learner.

Maria is filled with gratitude for all the experiences she’s had, both positive and negative for they have only made her stronger and more inspired to learn and grow. She hopes to continue to be an inspiration for others and to advocate for education and environmentalism, be a mindful and inclusive educator, and of course never stop learning.