What's your education story?

This educator sees ‘the power in being bilingual’ — and she wants her students to see it, too

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Liset Gonzalez-Acosta is a the director of dual language at Global Prep Academy.

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Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Liset Gonzalez-Acosta is a the director of dual language at Global Prep Academy, an innovation school housed at IPS Riverside School 44. She is part of the first round of local fellows selected to participate in a principal training program run by Relay Graduate School of Education.

I’ve been an educator now for 20 years. I was born in Cuba, and that’s where I got my bachelor’s degree. After that, I moved to Africa. My mom is a doctor, she’s a psychiatrist, and she was sent there for two years. I saw the opportunity to teach in a different place. I met my husband there, and we were married in Cape Verde, and I taught there for six years.

In a poor country like Cape Verde it was really hard for me to continue my studies because there wasn’t a university. So I started looking outside the country, and I was really fortunate to find a university in Vermont where part of their goal is to find international students who wanted to study there and were able to bring that cultural awareness to the rest of of the school.

It was an incredible experience because it was so diverse and you were able to work with people from all over the world. After that, I started looking for a (job). A school in Oregon was looking forof bilingual teachers … and that’s how I got involved in dual language, and it’s been my passion forever.

I see the power in being bilingual, and I want students to recognize you are very powerful when you can speak, write and read correctly in two languages — it’s an advantage for you.

That led me to find Mariama (Carson) by accident. We went to a conference, and I met her. She talked about this project (Global Prep Academy), and it was very interesting. Well, you know how it happens at a conference, you meet people, you say goodbye to people.

I went back to Oregon and forgot about it, and it was kind of … meant to be. I came back to a second conference, and the first person I saw was her. The last day of the conference, I called her, we sat down and talked.

So I came with my family (to Indianapolis). I really loved that the project was in the beginning because it was an opportunity to start something from the beginning. I never saw a new (dual language program) from the ground up.

One of the things that really caught my attention is how different urban education is. The real challenge started when I met the kids. They are so smart, all of them, but they come with so much baggage. It requires a lot of patience, a lot of commitment — believing that they can do it.

I would like to be more in an administrator role, with more administrator responsibilities in that sense because I see the need we have in the school. We have great teachers, but we have teachers who need to be switching their minds around to meet the needs of the kids.

I see education as the greatest equalizer for any student. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, but if you have an education, you can achieve.

I don’t have all the answers. I have a lot of experience, but I still need to continue learning and growing as an educator. I see myself in 20 years continuing in this career path, but with more experience so that the people that I work with can reach whatever they want to reach — not just the students, but also the educators.

 

What's Your Education Story?

Bodily fluids and belly buttons: How this Indianapolis principal embraces lessons learned the hard (and gross) way

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Christine Rembert at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

For Christine Rembert, principal at Francis W. Parker School 56 in Indianapolis Public Schools, education is the family business.

Her dad teaches chemistry to adults, and her mom is a retired high school English teacher. So it made sense that Rembert, too, would be an educator. As she has transitioned from a teacher to an administrator, she’s done a lot of learning — in fact, she considers herself not the person with all the answers, but the “lead learner” in her school.

And it hasn’t always been glamorous. Dealing with bodily fluids, for example, is a regular part of her day. As a new principal, she confronted that head-on in an anecdote she recounted in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of her story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

The last story I have to tell happened in my first few months as a school administrator, and I’ve learned many things from this story. I was sitting at my desk and doing some work, and my behavior person came in.

That’s the person who’s kind of the bouncer in the school who manages all the naughty kids. So we had that person, and she came in, and she was a tall woman — over 6 feet tall. She looked down at my desk, and she said: Do you want me to tell you the story first?

And I, in all my brand-new administrator wisdom, said no. And she goes, well, I have a teacher and a kid, and we need to talk to you.

And I was like, OK come on in!

Well, note to self: When the behavior person says do you want me to tell you the story, you need to say yes right then.

Because the reason is you have to not laugh.

So the teacher came in, and she has a Clorox wipe, and she’s (frantically wiping her nose). And I was like, OK, that’s weird. She sat down, and the child came in, and she was kind of sad.

I proceeded to hear the story whereby the child had stuck her finger into her (wet) belly button and then held it up to the teacher’s nose and said: Smell my finger.

Public education is like living in a fraternity house.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Rembert’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.

 

What's Your Education Story?

How this Indianapolis high school teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

To say that Sarah TeKolste and her student, Lori Jenkins, started off on the wrong foot would be an understatement.

New to teaching, TeKolste had high hopes for her Spanish class at Emmerich Manual High School, but she was met with sullen students who missed their former teacher. TeKolste wanted to forge a connection with Jenkins and her friends, who sat each day in the back of the class making their displeasure with her teaching blatantly obvious.

But TeKolste didn’t give up — on teaching Spanish or trying to reach Jenkins, who was dealing with personal issues that made school the least of her worries. Now, years later, both agree the tears, exasperation, and efforts were worth it. The two have grown so close, in fact, that Jenkins made TeKolste the godmother of her daughter.

TeKolste and Jenkins were two of eight educators and students who participated in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of their story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Sarah TeKolste: Aug. 4, It’s the first day of my first year as a teacher. I basically meticulously tailored my resume for the past five years for this moment where I’ll become a Spanish teacher for Teach For America.

And I’ve done all these ridiculous things like make this classroom management system that’s very detailed, and I’d made this classroom vision, and I think I’m really ready for what I’m getting myself into. I’m starting at Emmerich Manual High School.

I spent the summer getting prepared, and I’m basically an overly caffeinated nervous wreck.

On the first day of school, about 50 percent of my students come into my classroom, and they are just royally pissed that they don’t have Ms. Brito as their Spanish teacher anymore. That’s probably my first clue that things might not go super smoothly that semester.

Lori Jenkins: It was my senior year and I wasn’t very thrilled because last year we were informed that there were going to be a lot of changes in our staff and faculty and policy.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I had issues with change because a lot of my life has been constant change, and I had no control over it. Due to financial issues at home with my family, and my hormones and emotions were through the roof. I was just going through a lot at the time. But the only place that I had hope for solace was Ms. Brito’s class.

And when I arrived to Spanish class, there was no Brito. Ms. TeKolste’s upbeat smile, her happiness, it irritated my soul. My safe haven was taken from me, and I had to find it somewhere else, in someone or something else.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of TeKolste and Jenkins’ story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.