Published: Feb. 20, 2017

Kathy and Manuel

Kathy and Manuel Escamilla are mainstays in the School of Education with a mutual affinity for education. From day one, the duo has devoted their careers to inclusive education with passion (and humor). Kathy graduated from CU Boulder in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and became a bilingual elementary teacher. Manuel graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in modern languages and worked in early childhood education. In total, Kathy has worked in education for 46 years, the last 18 years at CU Boulder where she is now the Bob and Judy Charles Endowed Chair of Education.  She has served in public schools and universities as a bilingual classroom teacher, resource teacher, central office administrator and university professor. Manuel worked in higher education for the majority of his career as a professor, but also served as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and as Director of Head Start and educational equity centers.  He worked at CU Boulder as Research Associate for 8 years prior to his retirement in June of 2016. 

Join us in this lighthearted look at the Escamillas, their family life, their life’s work, and their passions.

Describte how you met and your story leading to the School of Ed:

We met because of the wonderful educational program, Project Head Start, which promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families. Manuel was a regional director of Head Start Centers and I was a Head Start Teacher. Neither of us was an expert in education at that time but we knew that Head Start was a special program and that working in education for Spanish-speaking poor children of migrant farm workers was meaningful and purposeful education, and while we did not know where we would end up we knew we wanted to do work that is purposeful.

What do you love about education?

This is a very hard question to answer because we love everything about education. No matter the level of education in which we have worked, we LOVE the students.  They challenge us, inspire us, endear themselves to us (well most of them) and they become part of our extended family.  We live vicariously through their successes and like to think we were a small part of what they become (mostly positive).  We have always considered education to be only partly what happens in school but also very much what happens in the community outside of school.  When invited, we are part of our students’ lives outside of the classroom and we have always required the students we teach to be informed advocates and active in their community as well as skilled technicians with a firm grasp on pedagogy. Education is critical for communities of color and we love that we have been able to help generate financial resources and moral support for students who would not have thought of themselves as college students, as Master’s students, as PhD students or as professors, teachers, administrators, etc.  No doubt the “what” of what we teach is important, but it pales in comparison to whom we are teaching.

How does your work in education impact your relationship?

Our professional roles allow us to understand each other better. It seems that each of us knows what the other is thinking and the challenges that the other is going through. Although we may not always listen to each other, it appears that when it comes to our professions we do listen to what the other has to say. We have been together for 44 years and our profession in education has helped us to continue to respect not only what we do professionally, but we respect each other as human beings. Education has been a life changer for us both; we’ve learned that it has allowed us to have a more open mind, to accept others for who they are, and to recognize each individual we work with, whether at the preschool level with children or at the university level with colleagues and doctoral students. Both of us have thought about other professions as we were growing, however, we always returned to education.  Our profession as educators has given us a great deal of satisfaction, rewards, and excitement and we know that in our simple way we have made a difference in the lives of many of our students and in the lives of many of our family members. We are a very happy couple and we are real. We have been told many times by students and other professional couples that we are their role models and that they want to be like us. This, of course, makes us think that we can fool many people most of the time!

What are your dinner table conversations like?

Our dinner conversations of late have been sad, although we feel we are in this together. We talk most of the present times for diverse and immigrant populations and the role of public education and the federal government. We are concerned and we have been trying to strategize on what is the best thing to do. We both feel very strongly about our public education. We have always valued public education and we both were prepared by teachers in public schools.

We also talk about Literacy Squared (a program co-founded by Kathy), a holistic approach to education in two languages housed in the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education. We discuss how to move the model forward by continuing to do and test research related to it.

However, much of our table conversation for the last nine years deals with our family, our son Alexandro, our daughter-in-law Sonya, their daughters Victoria, Jacquelyn, our daughter Amanda, our son-in-law Ruben, their daughter Elisa and their son Elias. We babysit Elias and Elisa every Wednesday and we have to talk about how we are going to educate and entertain them for one full day! Yes, we talk about how we can influence the grandkids since their parents are new and do not know what they are doing. (We frequently talk about us being parents and we know we did not do it right). This time we know better, at least we think we know better, so we are trying to do things better this time around.

We also talk about our parents and how we can make their lives easier. There is a great responsibility in taking care of elderly parents and we are constantly thinking that we do not do enough for them considering what our parents did for us as we were growing up and even as adults. We talk about us getting older and what the future holds for us.

Escamilla Family