Originally published April 17, 2015
By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
Spring is a time for planting, and a veteran educator with deep UTEP roots recently took steps to cultivate the ambitions of her young students to grow their dreams with the help of faculty from The University of Texas at El Paso.
Ana Tinajero, a dual language kindergarten teacher at Ramona Elementary School, has led two classes of wide-eyed children to her alma mater this month for the Kinder Future Leaders Adventure that she developed to broaden the horizons of students who are mostly Spanish speakers from economically disadvantaged households who rarely venture far from their neighborhoods near El Paso’s Ascarate Park.
“During classroom discussions about their futures, students share comments such as ‘I want to be a pizza maker like my dad’ and ‘I want to clean doctors’ offices like my mom,’” said Tinajero, who earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from UTEP in 1995 and her master’s in bilingual education three years later. “I want my students to aspire to be more. I want them to get a college education and someday be the owners of their own businesses.”
She reached out to her mother, longtime UTEP educator and administrator Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., professor of education and special assistant to UTEP’s vice president of research, who recruited Ron Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of science education and director of the Living Arthropod and Environmental Education Laboratory, and Song An, Ph.D., assistant professor of teacher education who is gaining visibility for his research in using music to teach math.
Ana Tinajero scheduled field trips on April 1, 2015, to meet with Wagler and visit a local television station, and on April 10 to meet with An and Josie Tinajero, who spoke about her work as a published author of textbooks used around the country to teach literacy in English and Spanish.
The students, ages 5 and 6, “oohed,” “aahed” and shrieked as they saw Wagler’s collection of tarantulas, scorpions, beetles and spiders in his first floor lab in the Education Building. The arthropods ranged in size from smaller than a pencil eraser to larger than a dessert plate. The professor explained how critical bugs are to the planet’s ecosystem and lamented how several species in his collection are near extinction in the wild. Some of the braver students held nonvenomous arachnids in their hands, to the delight of their classmates.
“I believe these kinds of experiences can inspire students to dream bigger,” Wagler said after his presentation. “I know they have shaped me into the person I am today.”
For his presentation, An encouraged the students to use colorful tabs and corresponding bells to create music in the Music-Math Teaching and Learning Corner on the second floor of the Education Building. He then challenged them to change the musical sequence by rotating the notes as an example of geometric design. The students enjoyed exercising their creativity.
After a lunch break in the Union Breezeway, they returned to An’s lab and listened to Josie Tinajero describe – in Spanish – her journey of starting school in El Paso. She overcame hardships and graduated from UTEP and taught kindergarten for five years before leaving to pursue her doctorate.
As a teacher, she saw the inequality in the materials and curriculum for bilingual education and in preparation of bilingual education teachers. She began to write textbooks to fill those voids in the 1980s for top publishers and continues that effort today.
Josie Tinajero showed the students the manual Underwood typewriter that she used to write her doctoral dissertation, the Macintosh SE/30 she used to write her first textbooks and her current laptop – thin, light and capable of self-publishing – to demonstrate the evolution of technology. She told the children about her homework, or research, she uses to incorporate best practices in the K-6 textbooks she has written.
The visits also incorporated short campus tours around UTEP’s Centennial Plaza. Ana Tinajero suggested some of the professions that were taught in the surrounding Bhutanese-style buildings. Teacher’s aides snapped plenty of photos that the students will use for their memory albums that are part of the project.
“I planted the seeds today,” Ana Tinajero said, “and they loved it.”