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How to make learning authentic

In “UNM overhauls teaching program” Maggie Shepard describes new efforts by the UNM College of Education to more effectively prepare our teacher workforce to serve our diverse communities in New Mexico. This semester I have had the honor of visiting Rio Grande High School to observe Mia Sosa-Provencio, one of the embedded faculty members who exemplify the “intensified clinical practice” component of the program.

It has been truly inspiring to watch Sosa-Provencio educate the next generation of teachers in her EDUC 593 “Engaging Literacy through Latin American Testimonios” course, taught in the very place where she ignited the imaginations of her students to the point where they organized a literacy rally when Sosa-Provencio was a language arts teacher at Rio only a few short years ago.

Sosa-Provencio’s passion for teaching and learning is infectious. But her approach is far more than being “sensitive, caring and understanding” to communities in need, as Shepard’s article describes.

Sosa-Provencio saw scholars and thinkers in her students when she was a teacher at Rio Grande – people with a wealth of intellectual capacity that she wanted to share in and challenge. She didn’t buy into the dominant narrative about poor communities of color not valuing education, but uncovered the knowledge that was inherent in the everyday lives of her students and built curriculum around that.

She asked her students what issues or concerns they had about their communities, challenged them to do something about it and allowed them to challenge her in turn. Their initiative was the springboard upon which she taught a rigorous language arts curriculum while providing her students access to the academic language of power, and insights to critique and improve upon the very system she was charged with helping them navigate.

That’s where the literacy rally came from, and that, and Sosa-Provencio’s way of teaching, is what we still need today more than ever.

I serve on the International District’s Healthy Communities Coalition. As part of our Education=Health initiative we have identified an enormous need for tutors in adult literacy.

Approximately 5,000 people over the age of 25 in the International District do not have their high school diplomas or GEDs, and high school equivalency prep programs are finding that a large number of people who avail themselves of their services are so far behind in basic reading and math that they get discouraged and drop out.

At the same time we know that each year large numbers of students drop out of school because they are already behind in the basic skills they need to do well in their classes before school has even started.

What we need is a massive literacy campaign in the International District, and we need the help of professors like Sosa-Provencio, University of New Mexico students and high school students themselves.

What better way to prepare teachers to teach than to put them to work teaching the neighbors, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents of their future students? And what better way to engage young people in their communities than giving them credit for tutoring other young people in their own neighborhoods?

We ask UNM to consider building adult literacy into their teacher education program.

We ask Albuquerque Public Schools to consider offering high school students who are disengaged in their own learning more opportunities to re-engage in education by using their own literacy for an authentic purpose: to educate someone else – namely a younger person in his or her own community.

Finally, we ask UNM and APS to expand their partnership to offer dual credit for students who participate in the embedded faculty program.

High school students are needed to provide critical feedback to the teacher education process and to co-construct an empowering, authentic curriculum with faculty and student teachers. Such involvement would surely be worth credit at both APS and UNM, and if Sosa-Provencio’s track record is any indication, the students are just waiting to be asked.

Also signed by Esodie Greiger, Glenna Voigt, Javier Aceves, Marsha McMurray-Avila, Reynaluz Juarez, Lidia Regino, Mark Clark and Gloria Rael.


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