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My journey to the CU doctoral program began in earnest in a southern Nevada middle school classroom, where I had the privilege to teach English and ESL to the students of a wonderful, predominantly Latin@/Chican@ community that still feels like home. My students arrived each morning at my door with endless gifts and assets – wild and wonderful creativity, fantastic stories, and ingenuity that couldn’t always be captured or contained by a standardized test. Sadly, the differences in the richness of opportunities for youth that existed between the wealthier areas of our district, and the more under-resourced neighborhoods like ours, were distinct and jarring. These structural inequities and cultural biases meant that far too often, the beautiful ideas and stunning achievements of my students, almost all youth of color, went largely ignored and unrewarded by a school system that seemed to be actively positioning these youth and their families for failure. As a Chicano myself, I felt as though I was watching my gente, my community, be marginalized in real time.
Yet for my students, even in the face of trauma and inequity both mundane and great, there was always hope and possibility; and a day never passed in which they did not inspire me with the strides in learning they made, or the brilliance of their ideas, schemes, and accomplishments. Our classroom became a place where their voices mattered, their experiences mattered, and literacy learning was a transformative endeavor for us all. My students helped turn my frustrations into questions – of how we might better construct learning spaces to leverage and validate the powerful voices of students of color and other non-dominant students to deepen learning and empower youth.
Since leaving the classroom and arriving at CU Boulder, I have been able to explore these broad questions while remaining connected to the Chican@ community. My work and research has focused on critical pedagogy, developing opportunities for authentic youth engagement in literacy, and the cultivation of culturally responsive teachers. I am proud to serve as Director of the Aquetza Summer Leadership Program, which serves primarily Latin@ and Chican@ youth, focusing on literacy development and youth-community leadership. This dual learning/research site works as an opportunity for expansive learning for both the high school youth participants who engage in compelling academic and community projects, and the undergraduate instructors who are able to engage firsthand with the many assets youth of color bring to learning. These efforts connect to my work and research in teacher education, exploring how the use of expansive-learning designs and teatro can help novice educators both develop rigorous, high-leverage teaching practices, and begin to challenge and broaden their own understandings around race, culture, language, sexual diversity, gender, and class as they pertain to the youth in their classrooms.
Beyond these endeavors, I am involved as advisor to the Education Diversity Scholars group (EDS), and have been privileged to work with Professors Kris Gutiérrez, Elizabeth Dutro, and Jennie Whitcomb, apprenticing on powerful and important research projects. My time at CU continues to be personally rewarding and intellectually stimulating, allowing me to maintain my community and cultural identity, my commitments to youth, and engage meaningfully in the academic field of education research and teacher education.