Nelly Patiño-Cabrara is a 2014 graduate of the Bilingual Teacher Pathway (BTP) program and holds a master’s in early childhood and elementary education from PSU. She is currently a second-grade dual-immersion teacher at Lowrie Primary School in West Linn-Wilsonville School District. Her bachelor’s degree in management and administration is from the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana in Quito, Ecuador. She is originally from a very small town, Mindo, Ecuador, surrounded by the Mindo-Nambillo Cloud Forest.
Like many other students in the BTP program, she was a talented bilingual classroom assistant who was identified and sponsored by her district to obtain a teaching license. Her story as an immigrant from Ecuador and first-generation college graduate is inspiring. She was recently invited to speak at the Oregon Leadership Network Fall Leadership Institute and motivated attending school administrators to a standing ovation.
How did your work at the GSE program help you reach your professional goals?
I have developed a better understanding of what being an educator is like and why people from all over the world have the right to be educated. Also, I have benefited from scholarship opportunities that the GSE offers. That, in many ways, has been a significant support for me, given the fact that I was economically limited.
What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?
The Bilingual Teacher Pathway program focuses on teaching for social justice. I learned about the importance of awareness of multicultural group dynamics. Working with Latino migrant students, and as a Latina myself, I found learning about that really beneficial because multicultural group dynamics is a major issue that affects Latino students due to the fact that many teachers are not aware of their students’ learning and communication styles.
I can also understand how difficult it is for schools to meet the Latino students’ needs, but one really essential approach that I believe could help teachers and schools is the conceptualization of our efforts to create a continuum of interventions rather than a detached intervention. For instance, providing workshops on cultural awareness would not, on its own, help teachers understand their students’ cultural differences. A rigorous curriculum that incorporates students’ interests and experiences and having high expectations would also be necessary to better serve students.
Teaching for social justice is the most useful thing I learned to consider and work for while at the GSE.
What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of the work that I did in the Migrant Summer School in Scappoose. I worked with preschool students and early elementary students grades K–2. Most of the students were struggling in reading and math at the beginning of the summer, and there was one student in particular who was behind all of the other students in math. I employed a variety of strategies, and I worked patiently with him and gave him time to think and make connections, and he was able to make incredible progress. All of the students made improvements, but by the end of the summer, he had surpassed the other students in the class, and I would often call him to the front of the class to explain the concepts to the rest of the class. I was very proud to see the progress that he made.
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?
To me, impact on the community is making the lives of people around me better.
How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?
I take into consideration the cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds of my students when developing curricula so the content becomes meaningful for them. I also try to help my students become agents of change, and I try to instill the commitment and desire for leaning in my students, so they can become self-determining learners. An example of this is the following: I provide my students with copies of books to take home. These books are at their reading levels and above their reading levels. My students read the books, and they realize that they are able to understand the books, read them fluently and accurately. Once they realize that, they say, “Maestra Patiño: Look, I can read this book. I want to read more and improve my reading level.” They are taking responsibility for their own learning.
I am also working with Latino families through the Migrant Education Program at the Northwest Regional ESD. We developed a workshop to promote Spanish literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to migrant preschool students and students in kindergarten to second grade. The aim for this workshop is to create an opportunity to collaborate with parents in order to improve educational outcomes for migrant children. Our long-term goal is to increase literacy skills while increasing knowledge and raising interest in STEM subjects and careers, especially among students from underserved and underrepresented populations. We will continue with our campaign to promote literacy in the students’ native language (L1) (Spanish) by having parents be the literacy and STEM advocates and experts, turning this challenge into an opportunity.
Did you have a favorite course/professor/project while at the GSE?
Yes. My favorite professor was Leslie Lauretti. She taught Second Language Acquisition and Development for K–12 Educators. She loves the subject that she teaches and has an in-depth knowledge of it too. She does not blindly adopt the old methods of teaching, and she has high expectations for everybody. Taking her class was the only time when I did not feel that a teacher had low expectations for me based on my language background and experiences. I felt challenged and encouraged to participate. She also helped me to believe that I could continue to be an advocate/activist for people who are second-language learners and immigrants.
Additionally, when she teaches, no one talks about anything but the topic that she discusses. She has the ability to draw our attention to the subject and also to sustain it. She is well versed in all the current affairs of the world of English-language development, and she often links what her students are studying to current issues. Also, she tells it like it is.
What advice would you give students currently enrolled in or recently graduated from GSE/PSU?
Embrace who you are as a person—it will help you when you become a teacher. It will help you instill love for learning in your students while you share with them the real you. Be compassionate, strong, and dedicated. Have high expectations and never, ever give up.