The SJSU Lurie College of Education provides a range of grants to students to support their academic endeavors to become transformative educators, counselors, therapists, and leaders. We spoke with SJSU Lurie College of Education Critical Bilingual Authorization Pathway (CBAP) students Adriana Priego, Heather Simonovich, Jazmin Mendez, Olivier Castañeda, Raul Leon, Rubby Barajas, and Stephanie Muñoz, who received grants to pursue various professional development initiatives. Listen to their insights below about how they adjusted their focus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about the pathway, Bilingüismo y Justicia, is available at sjsu.edu/education/academics/cbap
“Even when students are coming in now, students are just recently applying to the credential program are calling me – because I had them in classes in my undergrad – and asking me, ‘What do you think about this bilingual program? Or what do you think about me going into the credential program?’ I’ve said, ‘Definitely apply for a credential program and also apply for the bilingual program’ because … I had three job offers for three bilingual schools and I had to pick what school I wanted to go to and what worked best for my family. It was because of this program, that I was able to get job offers that prepared me for the future.”
Can you introduce yourselves to our listeners?
My name is Rubby Barajas. I am a Multi-Subject Credential student at San Jose State University. I am also in the Master’s program getting my MA in Education with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction.
Hello, my name is Olivier Castañeda. I graduated with a major in Child Development and a minor in Spanish and I recently obtained my Multiple Subject Credential the semester with a Bilingual Authorization. Like Ruby, I’m in the Master’s project with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction.
My name is Heather Simonovich. My undergraduate degree is in Psychology and I’m currently in the grad program, working on my Multiple Subject Credential with Bilingual Authorization, and I’m also getting my Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction.
My name is Stephanie Muñoz. I’m a grad student getting my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and getting my Multiple Subject Credential with my BCLAD.
Hello, my name is Adriana Priego. I’m currently a Multiple Subject teacher candidate also with the BCLAD. I’m also a grad student with an MA and Education at the emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction as well.
Hi, my name is Jazmin Mendez. I’m also in the Master’s program right now with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction, as well as a Multiple Subject Credential candidate with a Bilingual Authorization.
Hi, my name is Raul Leon and I received my Bachelor’s from San Jose State in Liberal Studies. Now I’m working on my Multiple Subject Credential and my Master’s with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction and the BCLAD.
Can you share a little bit about your faculty for the Bilingüismo y Justicia program? What has your relationship has been like working with them?
Rubby: I have a really good relationship with the main advisor of Bilingüismo y Justicia, who is Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz. In our first semester in the Multi-Subject Credential Program, Eduardo was our professor and he was the one that led us into the whole bilingual program. He let us know that the Bilingüismo y Justicia program was being developed and that they were going to want to get a lot more candidates in. When I got into the program, I wasn’t completely confident in my Spanish but Eduardo in his class about language and all these theories and the things that he was teaching us, he actually started giving me the confidence to learn Spanish more than I do now. My Spanish is not academic. I did not go to school in a bilingual program. I did not take a Spanish AP course. It’s just native. My family speaks Spanish – my family’s from Mexico. So, Eduardo, our relationship is really great, and he boosts your confidence. He held all these workshops to help support me in developing my Spanish acquisition, my Spanish academic language, and I’m really grateful for him, for Luis Poza, and for David Whitnenack. David Whitenack is in charge of the English language learner class on 262. He also gave a lot of insight on learning a different language or speaking a different language than what’s being taught in the classroom and how teachers can help support us and better develop the language that we’re learning. That played into me learning about myself and how I can learn about my own language and how to help students as well.
Olivier: Just like Rubby, I also had the opportunity to meet Luis Poza and Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz and David Whitenack. I had David for 262 last semester and then, this semester, Luis bosa and Eduardo Munoz-Munoz for the Bilingual Seminar. I had a really good experience and the classes were interactive, they made us do acting and the end the workshops were very informative. All of these created really good relationships amongst our cohort. One thing that I liked in particular, like Ruby was saying, is they are advocating for the classes to be fully in Spanish with also resources that we need, like more resources in Spanish since we are going to be teaching in Spanish. Eduardo also helped me because I wanted to advocate for myself for the CalTPAs, so he helped me to put together a one-minute speech. They’re not only helping us in our forming ourselves as teachers, but also as advocates for ourselves and political issues that are happening – how they affect us and how to make it fair for everyone.
Can you provide a brief description of the mini-grant that you recently received? What are you utilizing the mini-grant for?
Heather: The mini-grant was a $500 grant for students in our Bilingüismo y Justicia program to develop ourselves more as bilingual educators. We needed to fill out an application – the questions were in Spanish, we had to respond in Spanish. The grant came out at the beginning of the semester and I personally was excited to apply because my intention was to use the money to attend the CABE conference that was supposed to happen in April. CABE is the California Association for Bilingual Education and I meant to use the money to become a CABE member and then pay to attend the conference. It was going to be a very educational, interesting conference to learn more about the field of bilingual education and hear from theorists and authors and experts in the field and I was really excited about that. Unfortunately, due to the shelter in place order and all of the changes that have happened starting in March, the conference was canceled. Instead of using the money to attend the conference, I got together with some other people in this group – with Rubby, Jazmin, and Raul – and we have discussed books that we would like to get for our future classrooms, such as literature in Spanish for students, and also other materials that we can use when we end up teaching. For example, books that help us learn teaching techniques and that sort of thing that will help us be better teachers in the future.
Stephanie: I wasn’t considering going to the CABE convention. When I applied for the mini-grant, I specifically asked to use this grant money for books for my future classroom. I had already started planning on utilizing my grant money towards that because I wanted to have a strong bilingual library in my future classroom but then I also needed a broad range of books because I wouldn’t know what grade I would be working with. After that pandemic and CABE was canceled, Professor Muñoz-Muñoz connected me with Adriana and Oli to work on whether they were also interested in doing the classroom library to work together. We started working on that together – we created a spreadsheet where we put multicultural books or books that are in Spanish or are translanguage or in bilingual, so they’re both in English and Spanish. Do you want to add more to what we did, Adriana?
Adriana: Thank you, Stephanie. Like Heather and Stephanie mentioned, we utilized the grant to build our classroom library for future classrooms. Stephanie, Oli, and I, we created a spreadsheet and we met through Zoom to participate in some form of professional development, having conversations around what kind of books would be beneficial. At that point, since we didn’t know what grade level we would be teaching, we just bounced ideas about what we could use it for possibly. We all pitched in our ideas and created a diverse spreadsheet with different grade levels. At a certain point, we realized that we still had money leftover once we were done, so we created our own spreadsheet and then bought more books that were more relevant to the grade level that we would be teaching. Steph added more of her own grade level, then I did too, and then Oli had an interest in other books as well, other than the ones that we all came to an agreement with to purchase. It was fun. It was a really nice experience and it was nice to collaborate with them as well to get more ideas on what books we could use to build our classroom library.
Olivier: I am very happy right now because I am I’m looking at the books and, since you can’t see them, let me tell you that I received Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh, Talking with Mother Earth, the Tooth Fairy Meets el Raton Perez, etc. I really enjoy reading this book because it is about two cultures about the American culture and in our Latino culture because the tooth fairy is the one who gets the tooth here in America, and then el Raton is the one who gets the teeth. He gets them in Mexico and Latin America, but it is really cool how they work together. It’s like uniting two cultures, which we are now part of. Another interesting book that I ordered was about people with special needs since they are underrepresented like in our books. This one is by Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael Lopez and it talks about all the different types of special needs like diabetes and asthma, being in a wheelchair, and all these special needs that it’s more like including everyone. I’m really excited about all these things that we can teach to our students. Another one is Sonia Dores about immigration, and the Rainbow Weaver, which I got from Rubby’s list and I also enjoy, is about taking care of the environment. These are very interesting topics that are in books that are bilingual. These are going to help us to help our students to be conscious about other topics that are not only academic but are affecting them directly in their daily lives and to be more empathetic to everyone in response to things like all the racism that has been growing right now. We want to make them conscious and we want to empower them with all these different topics about many things in the environment and in our society that that is going to help them in their daily lives.
Can you share an experience that you’ve had as a result of the mini-grant or in your program as a whole that has been enlightening, surprising, challenging, etc.?
Jazmin: For the mini-grant, I worked on creating the list, basically the same thing that Heather, Stephanie, Adriana, and Oli used it for – for books. What was funny is that I started working on a list with Raul and Rubby at first and then we decided to add Heather because we weren’t sure if she was in the other group. Rubby, Raul, and I have known each other since our undergrad, so we’re a lot more comfortable and I guess I could say we’re very open-minded with each other. We talk about books and we kind of start bickering about different books like, “No, well, I think these kinds of books would be better.” “No, I think these books would be better.” Raul, you were arguing – not arguing – we were having educational conversations that were very enthusiastic about what appropriate books are. I think it was kind of surprising and challenging as a group trying to get down to a concrete type of book that we agreed on.
Raul: Yeah, making a decision was tough. For Jazmin, her whole mindset was that let’s go into this – I want to get books that have already curriculum behind it, I want to get classic books. My thing is like, why do you want to spend that money on classic books if the school district is already providing these books to you, if they want them as a class set, and they already have curriculum behind it? Instead, buy books that the school is not going to provide you like books that the students will enjoy reading. The books that they that I wanted to go into were like Dog Man, Captain Underpants. The kids like those kind of books but the school district is not going to buy you those books. That’s what was challenging. It’s like, what do you want to do? Do you want to get something that has a curriculum already behind it that’s already written out for us and the class sets? Another thing that we said was “What if our school that we go into already has books lined up that they want, as far as the curriculum covered, the money would have gone to waste?”
Jasmin: It really got us thinking about how do we encourage literature and literacy at the same time and get books that the students are going to enjoy but that are also pushing them to read other books? My thing with Dog Man was that I’m supposed to be going into a fifth-grade classroom, while Raul was initially going to go into a fourth, but then he got switched down to a third, so there’s been a lot of moving and figuring out what are the appropriate books. Do we want to get them books that are enjoyable, that the kids we know are going to read, for example, Dog Man, or do we want to get books that they haven’t heard, they’re newer into the system of libraries? Being realistic, our school libraries aren’t updated very often and most books are donated during book fairs. We wanted to get some books that are really popular; for example, the Harry Potter series that are usually checked out because students will continue to forever love those books. We also want them to have books that cover different topics and have diverse characters and have fun different storylines. We want all students to be represented with the books that we have and, as bilingual educators, we also wanted to look for books that were in Spanish that are chapter books.
Raul: I think that was the biggest challenge and I think that everybody would probably agree with us that probably for every 10 English books, we would maybe find one Spanish book that was affordable. You could have a Harry Potter book and pay about $5 for it but the Spanish version is $15. So that made it a lot more difficult to acquire those books. I’m sure everybody would agree when it comes to finding bilingual books.
Jazmin: Yeah, they’re harder to find and they’re a whole lot more expensive, so it does bring us back to that equity issue that we’ve been learning throughout our program. Being bilingual candidates, we’re going to face a lot of challenges and we have to figure out what ways to go about them and overcome them, not for ourselves but for our students. That’s something that has been ingrained in us throughout the whole program that injustices are going to happen throughout and sometimes you have to figure out ways to overcome them. A lot of bilingual programs or schools are underfunded as if schools weren’t underfunded enough already.
Raul: These challenges go through our entire academic career even currently in the bilingual program. One of the other challenges we all face was that we have to write in Spanish, but yet our academic papers are all in English, so it becomes a challenge for us to have to translate when some words, especially academic words, are not translatable.
Jazmin: And there’s no specific library, so that was one of the goals that we’ve had throughout the last year where we’ve been in the program. I know Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz and Luis Poza have created a library where we can all integrate those academic words. But it’s still hard – I remember I would refer to one thing as to one word as one way and Raul might say, “Okay, I think it sounds better saying it this way” because there’s no direct translation and because of the change in the grammar of the actual grammatical structure of the language as well. It’s been enlightening to have our meetings on Fridays – the seminars. Learning the laws, learning the history of bilingual education, all of the challenges that the people in the past have overcome. It’s been really enlightening learning the history and knowing how much more we have to push for bilingual education to be continued to be thought of as not just something that’s for a specific group of people, but that it’s for everybody. I think that’s something that bilingual education is being pushed more now that because we do have the two-way bilingual education in schools where they want 50% Spanish speakers and 50% native English speakers. I think we’re heading the right way in this group of educators that we have, and this program is really striving to create educators that we need.
How has this opportunity overall shaped you – personally, academically, or professionally – going forward?
Rubby: As Jazmin and Raul were just saying, when we were engaging in the conversations about deciding what type of books to get with the grant, I started to realize that Jasmine had a point you want to get books that can work well with curriculum, but Raul also had a point that we want to get books that kids will enjoy and that will encourage them to actually read. This opportunity allowed me to voice and open up the doors for me to see the types of books that could be considered curriculum worthy but also enjoyable for the students. There are several books that, through the process of finding them in English, I found them translated in Spanish, so I was able to purchase both to encourage the students that are in these bilingual programs that if they enjoyed it in English, why not read it in Spanish? Instead of having it just bilingual, English and Spanish on the same page, I actually wanted to have it separated to help students master one language as they’re reading. If they’re reading in English, they can think in English and write in English and if they’re reading a book in Spanish, they can think in Spanish to process their thoughts in Spanish. The mini-grant kind of gave me that opportunity to see it in that type of view – giving the students the opportunity to learn themselves with the language that they’re reading in and to help them stay engaged in literacy and learning. On the other hand, the other thing we’re talking about is the Bilingüismo y Justicia program. That in itself has helped me – personally, academically and professionally – get the confidence that just because we know one language doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn another. We should try to build that that bridge of communication with the people in our community, and me becoming a bilingual teacher is just one step that will help our communities bridge that gap and come together.
Olivier: The opportunity of being in the bilingual program has helped me feel a sense of belonging. I really enjoy the classes that we could express ourselves in either language. We felt more comfortable. Like Rubby said, her first language is English, so if she felt that she wanted to say it in English she would say it in English. For me, I would like to speak Spanish all the time. For the mini-grant, Raul and Jazmin were saying that they were trying to figure out what kind of looks. For Adriana, Stephanie, and I, we thought, “Okay, let’s get picture books because picture books are something that everybody can read.” We can use it as a read-aloud and, from my experience, when I have been in the classroom and I read books to the students and then put them in the shelves, then they always want to get the books that I read through them. I’ve read to them with expression and so I know that if I got picture books that I read then students are going to be more willing to see them. I might be 42 years old now but I still enjoy picture books and I love picture books because I learned a lot from the pictures and it has art, which is integrated in a lot of our issues of social justice. I was like “Yes – I got a mini-grant! I’m going to get books.” My daughter was helping me open the box and she’s was like, “Wow, look at these books! These are nice, look at the art.” She loves art. I said “Yeah, and it’s even cooler because they’re about different topics,” like about LGBTQ and about social justice and immigration and acculturation. It’s a lot of topics that we can talk about and it makes me so excited that I’m going to be able to use all these books to like engage students in dialogue and higher-order thinking. I’m just very excited.
Heather: I want to talk about what the program has meant for me, personally and professionally, and also the mini-grant. My first language is English. I’m not a heritage Spanish speaker, but I had the opportunity to live in Metagene, Colombia, for a number of years when I was young, and that’s actually where I went to undergrad. I am bilingual and I’m fluent in Spanish, so it was really exciting for me to be able to participate in this program and bring my Spanish into my professional life. Like I said, I went to undergrad in Spanish intending to use Spanish in my professional career. Since I returned to California, I’ve had limited opportunity to use Spanish, so it’s wonderful for me to be back in it in an educational setting where both languages are honored, where I have the chance to speak and write and sometimes read in Spanish professionally. At first, when I was thinking of going into the program, I was thinking, “Who am I to be in the program?” I’m not a Spanish speaker and I don’t have a Spanish name, so people might look at me funny if they see me as being their teacher. But then, I saw that there are other colleagues in the program for whom Spanish also isn’t their first language. Like Rubby said, there’s encouragement for us to continue because the program is about being bilingual. I think it’s important for people, especially here in California, to speak Spanish because Spanish has always been a language that has been spoken in these lands even before English was the dominant language. All along, over hundreds of years, Spanish has been used in this area. If I can do something to bring my own experience to that and share that somebody who looks like me can also be a bilingual person, maybe normalize that, I think that’s a good thing.
Stephanie: I did not start the credentials program in the bilingual program. That’s something I eventually got into at the end of the first semester. I remember I became really close friends with Adriana and she mentioned it and I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to be part of a bilingual program” because, just like Rubby, I felt like I wasn’t confident enough in my Spanish to be part of the program. I also remember at some point, Rubby, Jazmin, and some other people were telling me about Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz and how he’s going to give us so much support and help us out in every step in this program. I talked to Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz and he made me feel safe and confident that I should be in the program. We started a seminar the next semester and I noticed how much support we got the more we practiced it. I used it while doing student teaching in bilingual classrooms. I learned so much and I grew to really love being in a bilingual classroom just because Spanish is also part of my native Language. Seeing so many students that are going to grow to be strong in their bilingualism, something that I wish I could have an opportunity that I could have had made me thankful that I did join the bilingual program and that I am graduating with my bilingual authorization. I got a job at a district that is just starting their dual immersion program and I was selected to be one of the two teachers to start this program. It is really exciting for me to be part of that, so I had already asked the grant the mini-grant to be for to start my classroom library. I know I’m going to be working and with kinder, so once I knew what grade I was working with I edited my list of books to be targeted towards kindergarten and lower grade. Working and subbing in bilingual classrooms, I noticed that – I don’t know if it’s a stereotype to assume that these classes are full of Hispanic children – but it’s not. I’ve seen so much diversity in Spanish bilingual classrooms and that’s something that I really wanted to bring into my list for my classroom library. I chose books that are so varied in culture because that’s something I did my master’s thesis on – culture in the classroom. A lot of my books are not just with characters who are Hispanic, I chose books that have to do with different ethnicities or maybe like there’s a story about someone from India moving to the US and getting to know the English language in their classroom and interacting with students and the culture, how different it is here. I made it a point for myself to choose a lot of books with cultural diversities and that’s something that I hope will be really helpful when I read these books to my students or when I put them in the classroom library and they see representation. Or, maybe it’s not them, but they have a classmate that they could maybe connect to and think, “Oh, maybe this is what my classmate might think or might be going through” and then make connections with their peers and hopefully with people outside of the classroom in social environments.
Adriana: For me, I think the opportunity with the mini-grant was unique because of the pandemic, but I was still able to participate in some sort of virtual professional development with a few of my colleagues. It was a great opportunity to collaborate, bounce ideas on what kind of books we would choose for future classrooms, and then determine how that would help create diverse bilingual classrooms and libraries as well. My experience with the program was definitely great. I think the amount of support and engagement within the Bilingüismo y Justicia, from our professors – Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz, Luis Poza – and from my supervisor, Danielle Miranda, was amazing. I can’t wait to see how it continues to grow and develop in the following years.
Raul: I was like in the same boat as Stephanie where I didn’t think I wanted to do that bilingual program. It wasn’t until I went in for my application to get into the credential program that they asked me if I spoke Spanish and I said, “Yeah, a little.” From there on, they said, “You got into the program!” and like everybody else said, props to Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz. He is really there to support you, makes everything easier. Even when students are coming in now, students are just recently applying to the credential program are calling me – because I had them in classes in my undergrad – and asking me, “What do you think about this bilingual program? Or what do you think about me going into the credential program?” I’ve said, “Let’s definitely apply for a credential program and also apply for the bilingual program” because, like Stephanie said that she got hired right away, I had three job offers for three bilingual schools and I had to pick what school I wanted to go to and what worked best for my family. It was because of this program, that I was able to get job offers that prepared me for the future.
Jazmin: This opportunity overall has shaped me in very different ways, personally, academically, and professionally. Personally, I think I’ve made friendships that are going to last a lifetime, not just with Raul and Rubby but even with a professor Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz, Luis Poza, a few of the different supervisors, and our mentor teachers. I don’t know what other people’s experiences were with their mentor teachers, but both of my mentor teachers were nothing short of supportive and amazing as individuals. Even now, I still keep in contact with my mentor teacher from the first phase of my student teaching. I know that I have more than just friends – I know I have other people that I can potentially ask for help and I have a whole community and a network that I can go back to in case I ever do need help. Academically, I’ve grown as a Spanish speaker and an English speaker. There’s one thing speaking the language and then now there’s another thing that we’ve all experienced, which is teaching another language that we weren’t initially thinking of doing. We’ve all had our own proper experience with the bilingual program. I think overall, and from what I’ve heard from everybody else, that we’re all going into a bilingual, Spanish classroom a lot more confident than what we initially thought or what we were thinking when we first came into the program. We haven’t just grown as teachers, we’ve grown as becoming real educators. It was the first step in discovering what was going to go into our personal classroom. It was a different challenge for us because it wasn’t just to meet a deadline, it wasn’t just to make sure we had the specifics of an assignment. We put a lot more heart into it because I had the freedom I’m of choosing whatever book I wanted. Just thinking and imagining that I can use this book, and can use them for whatever great I want created enthusiasts behind this mini-grant that we had. It was a really great opportunity to grow personally, academically, and professionally in different ways. I know initially that I wanted to do something that was not just out of the state but was in another country with this grant money. Obviously wasn’t something I was able to do because of the pandemic but I think it pushed us to think about how we can develop ourselves in very different ways.
Connect with Lurie College at https://linktr.ee/sjsulurie to receive more news about academic and student life! Audio recorded by Brian Cheung Dooley. Interview transcription provided by otter.ai and edited by Sydney Ahmadian.