Alumnus of the Month – Denise Robles-Torres

Dr. Robles-Torres has been an educator for 20 years and has spent the last 14 teaching at Sojourner School, the elementary school that she helped to found. Currently, she teaches 1st and 2nd grade and is helping plan for a future expansion to include pre-kindergarten through 8th grade programs. In addition to her work at Sojourner School, Dr. Robles-Torres has taught several courses at the GSE, where she has been “encouraged to witness, even in these difficult financial times, the enthusiasm and positive energy of the graduates of the program.”

Q&A

How did you transition into the field after your graduate studies?

By the time I entered the GSE, I had had my fill of short-term, superficial learning opportunities that lacked continuity and that left little time for mastering and incorporating new practices into classroom life. The GSE offered the opportunity to study, at a very deep level, topics that were interesting, challenging and applicable to my work with my colleagues and the children at Sojourner School.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

There were so many useful things during my time at the GSE! Perhaps one of the most important things for me was the idea of learning how to learn. I recall the massive amounts of information I could access. Sometimes it seemed overwhelming and difficult to know when “enough was enough.” Being part of the GSE definitely shifted some things around for me in terms of how I was thinking and what I was thinking about as I read through all of those articles and books. This process of thinking, inquiring, and understanding helped me to appreciate that it was up to me to look through the resources I acquired and pick out what I needed for my research and then build upon that. Beyond content, I believe that this skill changed my way of looking at the world.

What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the development and implementation of the school in which I work. I was one of four teachers in North Clackamas School District who founded Sojourner School in 1998. My partners and I wanted to create a school in which every child had many opportunities throughout the school day to succeed in ways that reflected his or her own unique aptitudes and interests. Designing our school around Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences provided the framework to do just that. Sojourner is a magnet school that serves children K-5, and its broad, dynamic program places equal emphasis on all intelligence areas, giving children eight different potential pathways to learning and to success.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?

I see having an impact on the community as schools engaging with the community in a variety of ways in order to improve educational and social outcomes for children. For example, having a school culture that brings in new ideas to support creativity and innovation, while taking responsibility where it can, to share and spread its own good practice more widely is one way to engage with the educational community, including higher education. Another example of school/community engagement is to provide training, classes, and resources for parents that enable them to support their children’s learning. Finally, schools that offer extended hours, which offer a broad range of services to children and families such as breakfast, after school clubs, and opening of school facilities for community use, all can have positive educational outcomes for children.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?

I think that I can safely say that my colleagues and I are dedicated to empowering the children in our care, from a very early age, to be catalysts for change in their school community and beyond. We do this by designing curriculum that helps students to understand the inter-relatedness of our world, by guiding them to make healthy choices, and encouraging them to take responsibility for creating positive change on issues that matter to them and to their community. On more than one occasion it has been the children themselves who have initiated and engaged in service-learning projects that have demonstrated the importance of working toward a “world for all.”

Did you have a favorite course, professor, or project while at the GSE?

Throughout my time at the GSE I encountered faculty that were supportive and inspiring. The encouragement and guidance provided by Dr. Emily de la Cruz though was the reason I was able to finish my dissertation. Throughout the unstructured nature of the dissertation process, Emily helped me to focus on what I needed to spend my time on. During our regular meetings she helped me to stay motivated and to keep a positive outlook. I am happy to say that Dr. Emily de la Cruz remains a friend and mentor to this day!

What advice would you give currently enrolled or recently graduated students?

I think the most important advice I would give to students is to really believe that the work you are doing is important. Without that deep conviction and ownership, the inevitable challenges that are a part of the process of research will undermine the determination to see the work through to completion.

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