Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the San Luis Valley

For the past two years, K-12 World Languages Instructional Specialist Marty Slayden has taught a course entitled Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the San Luis Valley. In October, 2015, students spent one week on the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs preparing teaching methods for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) students, as well as studying the culture and history of the San Luis Valley.

Chelo Barton and CCSD students

The following two weeks were spent working with English Language Learners (ELL) in the Center Consolidated School District (CCSD) and visiting other schools in the Valley.

Outside of the classroom, the students were exposed to many different perspectives of Valley life. At the end of the second week, there was a panel discussion from a group of community members who helped frame a more holistic view of life in the Valley.

Teddy Rose and CCSD students

The panel consisted of Aaron Abeyta, a poet and literature professor at Adam State University; Justin Garoutte, a 2012 CC graduate and Garden Coordinator of the South Conejos School District in Antonito, Christine Canaly, a water rights activist and George Whitten and Julie Sullivan, a couple who promotes sustainable ranching in the Valley.

Slayden described the panel as a “pivotal experience” in the class. The participants were “really willing to answer questions on a very deep level and be very open about their lives.”

Toward the end of the third week, CCSD Superintendent Chris Vance met with the CC students for two hours to answer an array of challenging questions. “It was a riveting meeting,” says Slayden. “He gave so much of his time and energy, and the students felt as if he was their hero.”

The integrative and immersive aspects of the class left a lasting impression on both the students of Colorado College as well as the people of the Valley. For the students, the two-week immersion provided opportunities to speak to the panel and Chris Vance, as well as the opportunity for unique and intense practicum work with the ELL or students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

Slayden chose the Center school because she knew it would be a heterogeneous community that would take CC students out of their comfort zones. The student body at Center is highly diverse and many of the students live at or below poverty level. The school also has the highest population of limited English speaking immigrants in the area, due to the available jobs in the local potato industry.

“These schools have enormous challenges that they have to deal with. There are immigrant students who come for two months and leave for six months and then come back. They don’t speak English and they come and they go. It is the most challenging educational environment you can imagine,” says Slayden.

Slayden emphasized that her class was about “understanding what it means to be a resident of the San Luis valley”: a unique approach that most CC students do not normally get to experience.

The biggest impact the CC students have is changing the reputation of the collegiate students who visit the Valley. Often when classes visit the Baca campus or the surrounding communities they come in as outsiders, and view the satellite campus and surrounding area as a “private vacationland.”

“The people that have lived in the Valley for generations have seen outsiders as people who take. Over the years, the outsiders have taken their resources, their water, their minerals, their electricity, taken their culture, and I don’t want the College to be just one of those takers. I don’t want us to just be outsiders. I want us to be a part and give something and make connections,” said Slayden.

As a class, the CC students wanted to leave a positive and lasting impression on the people of the San Luis Valley. The 2015 class worked together to produce two magazines designed to promote the Center Schools and to illustrate what they learned over the course of the block. By giving the community these products, the students are not only creating a comprehensive representation of the schools, but they are helping create a good name for students of Colorado College.

“I think that it’s very important for these communities to learn about Colorado College. We here think that we’re so important, very selective, highly ranked, and they don’t even know who we are,” says Slayden.

She believes that by working within the schools and the community, the CC students can inspire younger students of the Valley to set goals to attend higher education, perhaps even at Colorado College.

“We do have something that we can offer them: a bigger view of the world, not in a self important, ‘oh we’re so cool’ way, but we could recruit students to come to CC.”

Slayden’s goal, outside of giving her students an incredible teaching experience, is to continue to build the relationship between Colorado College and the people of the San Luis Valley; a project that offers an abundance of learning opportunities and new perspectives for everyone involved.

Alumni Profile: Shannon Mello MAT ’11

Shannon Mello in action Shannon Mello is a 2011 graduate of Colorado College’s Master of Arts in Teaching, K-12 art program. She believes that during her time at CC, the student teaching component of the program is what most prepared her for her teaching career.

“It was hard. It was really hard. Of course, within the student teaching we were taking classes at night, so it was very intense.”

Mello was able to attend art shows during her time student teaching, an opportunity which allowed her to truly experience the partnership between the community and arts education.

“I was able to see the community art shows and the involvement in the preparation… I didn’t realize physically how much was involved. The organization, reaching out to parents, sending out letters and news information to communicate with the community; people don’t even realize how much preparation goes into [the art shows]”.

Over the past five years, Mello has been teaching art at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Colorado Springs. As a teacher, she feels she has always been supported by a phenomenal staff and great administration at Mountain Ridge. In her first three years, Mello’s talents were recognized and she was honored with the Teacher of the Year award.

Mello is particularly found of Mountain Ridge because as an IB school, the curriculum is very inquiry focused, much like the MAT program at CC.

“It is very much reflection and process-oriented instead of being focused on the end product. Inquiry is promoted by instructors, and it breeds a safe environment”.

Mellow channels an enormous amount of her energy into building relationships with her students at Mountain Ridge.

“Even if it is just knowing one thing, like the events they do after school, I think building relationships is incredibly important”.

During her second year teaching at the middle school, Mellow wanted to get involved with the community and started the Grizzly Gala: A Night of the Arts. The semi-annual event is a presentation of art, drama productions and musicians. It acts as a showcase and an opportunity to display student work for the enjoyment of the community.

Since she began teaching, Mello’s most memorable experiences are when students tell her that she has inspired them to be art teachers.

“You don’t think of their plans that far in the future, so it totally takes you off guard, but it’s really cool to hear what is inspiring them.”

Mello’s years at Mountain Ridge have taught her to never assume where students come from.

“You never know the back-stories of students, and you never know what they’re going through.”

She emphasizes the importance of communicating, and trying to have them communicate as much as possible. She thinks this interaction is vital to promote a safe environment.

Mello has had an incredible experience at Mountain Ridge, and has truly become an integral part of the school’s arts education program. “I love teaching middle-schoolers because they are still at the point where they are open minded and they are willing to take some risks.”

In recent years, Mello was part of the Colorado Academic Standards in Visual Arts Committee, and really enjoyed the process of teachers teaching teachers. Despite her great experience teaching and learning from adults, she thinks she would miss the kids too much.

While Mello can’t imagine working anywhere other than Mountain Ridge right now, her dream is to eventually build a new art program from scratch.

Alumni Profile: Emily Alexander MAT ’10

Apple Awards 2015

Zach and Emily Alexander 

Emily Alexander is a 2010 graduate of Colorado College with a Bachelor’s Degree in music and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in K-12 music. During her time at CC, Alexander sang in the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, conducted by Deborah Jenkins Teske. During her pursuit of her undergraduate’s degree, Alexander realized not only did she love music and singing, but she also developed a strong appreciation for her courses at CC and loved learning about the math, science and art of music.

Alexander’s favorite undergraduate classes were her technical musical classes, because learning the science behind music “helped deepen [her] love” for the art. Alexander has dedicated much of her time teaching these more technical aspects of music to her own students, because her classes at CC were so influential in her career.

“CC was the perfect place to prepare me for my teaching career,” said Alexander when describing her experience in the MAT program. Working with her cohorts and people who were equally passionate was motivational and constructive. Between student teaching, writing a thesis and attending classes, Alexander laughed, “we were all down in the trenches, and then we all came out together.”

Despite her success and her level of comfort now, Alexander spoke to the transition from graduate school to the “real world”, saying it isn’t as easy as some make it out to be. Alexander said, “your first year as a teacher is going to kick your butt no matter what. There’s no way you’re going to know what is going to happen. Every day there’s something new, and you just kind of learn from trial by fire.”

Since graduating, Alexander has taught choir to sixth, seventh and eight graders at Cimarron Middle School in Douglas County. Alexander chose to teach middle-school students because she believes it is a great time to “help kids find their passion. And if they don’t find that in music, to help them find something they are passionate about.”

Since Alexander began teaching at Cimarron, the choir program has grown enormously to 320 students. With the expansion of the program, she has had the opportunity to implement interdisciplinary lessons—her favorite kind of lessons to teach. She focuses on the meaning and history behind music as well as the scientific and mathematical components of it. By teaching from multiple angles, Alexander believes “kids can take ownership over the discipline.”

Alexander truly thinks that her class is a different place than other classes, because no other discipline “does quite exactly what we do.” She thinks choir teaches life lessons, because “students learn how to overcome fears and work towards common goals.”

If there is one piece of advice Alexander would give to new teachers, regardless of the discipline they are in, it is: “If you are going to be a teacher, make positive phone calls home as much as you can.”

Most parents only receive phone calls when something bad has happened, or parents don’t hear any news from school at all. Calling home to tell parents how well their children are doing “really builds a positive learning community, especially between kids and their parents.”

Today, outside of teaching at Cimarron, Alexander sings with Kantorei, a professional-caliber choral ensemble based in Denver.  She is also a member of the Colorado Music Educators Association, where she takes part in professional development programs and attends their annual conference. This organization is incredibly helpful because it creates a network and accessible resources for music teachers, who are so unique in their work.

“I have loved working in education, and right now I would like to stay in the classroom and stay engaged and energized,” said Alexander. As a Colorado native she does not see herself leaving the state anytime soon.  In the future however, she thinks she might like to transition into adult education, or teaching teachers.

Alumni Profile: Brittni Darras MAT ’12


Rampart Cheerleading

Rampart Cheerleading

Brittni Darras is a born and bred Colorado Springs resident, who is using her career to give back to a community close to her heart. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in Literature at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Darras continued on to complete her Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the Colorado College in 2012. Over the course of the past three years, Darras has been teaching ninth and tenth grade English courses at Rampart High School in Academy District 20.

Since the third grade, Darras has known she wanted to teach. While in college, Darras tutored students at her old high school, Doherty High School, in a group called Avid (Advancement Via Individual Determination), an in-school academic support program that prepares students for college eligibility and success. While tutoring, Darras really got to know students and talk to them about their ambitions and futures.

“It seemed more real world to me and that’s what really made me know that I wanted to do secondary education. I wanted a Master’s degree, and I just went for it.”

Since her undergraduate years, Darras has fully immersed herself in the world of education, and she attributes an enormous part of her success to the preparation and experiences she had in the Colorado College MAT program.

One characteristic of CC’s program is a small and tight knit learning community. With only ten students in the secondary program, “we could share the experiences, and because it was small and concentrated we got to know our professors. We hung out on the weekends with the other colleagues and we just got to know each other and bonded through the experiences that we were going through,” said Darras.

Another unique aspect of the program is the combination of working on a thesis, taking classes and teaching simultaneously. Darras believes managing these three components set her up for a positive teaching experience post-graduation.

“Teaching is a lot easier because now I’m used to being busy and doing multiple things at once, because teaching isn’t a job that just stays in the classroom, it requires outside planning and grading and other things, and I think CC really prepared me for that.”

Outside of teaching English classes, Darras has committed herself to other activities at Rampart High School. She stresses the importance of community both within the school and without, emphasizing keeping parents involved with their kids in the education process.

Gangnam Style

 “I didn’t realize while I was at CC how important that is, but it really is a community. If you really get to know the parents, you can get the parents to work with the kid, and that positive relationship is something that really makes the biggest difference.

Darras’ position as the Varsity cheerleading coach and as the student council advisor for Avid displays her involvement and reflects how much she values community.

One of Darras’ fondest memories teaching, so far, took place two years ago during a Bald for Bucks assembly. Over the past couple years the students have raised over $30,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and over 100 people from Rampart shave their heads every year. Darras was inspired by one of her cheerleaders who wanted to shave her head, and Darras wasn’t going to let her do it alone. Darras says the fundraiser and shaving her head was something she would never have done if she was not teaching at Rampart, and that the experience was a “life changing impactful moment, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Bald for Bucks

Bald for Bucks

Bald for Bucks

Bald for Bucks

Eventually, Darras hopes to get her PhD and possibly teach at a university. But for now she is “like moss stuck to a tree”, and is in love with her job at Rampart. Colorado is home, and even moving ahead, she foresees her life staying in the beautiful state.

Alumni Profile: Tim Hoisington MAT ’11

After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies at Connecticut College, Tim Hoisington graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in secondary science from Colorado College in 2011.

While in the MAT program, Hoisington taught science and led multiple field trips at Carmel Middle School, an experience he believes most prepared him for his career in education.

Following graduation, Hoisington continued his teaching career while volunteering in the Peace Corps.  Inspired by his eighth grade science teacher, Hoisington traveled to Nicaragua in 2012 to work with the Peace Corps in environmental education.

After improving his Spanish, Hoisington began his work in Diriomo, where he taught students in the third, fifth and sixth grade at two public schools: La Concepción and Rubén Darío de Diriomo.

Hoisington shared his materials and strategies with teachers and students, opening gateways into the realm of natural sciences, teaching students how to construct gardens and create organic fertilizer.

Tim Hoisington in Nicaragua

One of Hoisington’s most memorable experiences teaching in Nicaragua was during a unit on force, where students created their own bridges, and then tested how much force they could withstand.

“Many of the kids had never done a project where they had to create something using information they learned in class. The kids were super into it and I enjoyed seeing them have fun while applying important science concepts learned in class.”

Watch the students testing the strength of their bridges:

For Hoisington, teaching in Nicaragua has illuminated the importance of utilizing resources in education, and how an abundance of resources does not necessarily correlate with better teaching practices.

“I think a lot of times teachers can be distracted from content with all of the resources we have available. I think on the other side of the spectrum teachers that don’t have many resources don’t think they have the ability to implement dynamic classes. The reality is that if you have paper, pencils and tape you can do a whole lot with those resources.”

Aside from leading teacher trainings every month, teaching science classes, and helping community members and other volunteers to build fuel-efficient stoves and ovens, Hoisington also started a soccer league for boys in Nicaragua.

Hoisington with his youth soccer league in Nicaragua

The link between philanthropy and sports development is one that Hoisington has continually explored over the past few years.  Through multiple projects, he has spread values in leadership, health and community to youth through different athletic outlets and camps.

The camps are unique in the way they “bring together youth from diverse regions across Nicaragua to break down barriers and to promote a unified youth that can use their common understanding of the problems they face to instigate change together,” said Hoisington.

Click the link below to learn about a soccer camp Hoisington helped organize to raise HIV awareness:

Moving forward, Hoisington hopes to continue working with sports development and philanthropy. Also, since learning Spanish, he is considering teaching English as a Second Language courses.

Alumni Update: Buck McKenna ’11

Buck McKenna '07 graduated with a Minor in Education

Buck McKenna ’11 graduated with a Minor in Education

Buck McKenna graduated from Colorado College in 2011 with a major in Religion and a minor in Education. During his time at CC, McKenna played lacrosse and was known for being great with kids. After receiving his diploma, McKenna moved to San Francisco, where he worked in a two-year internship as a teaching assistant at the Town School for Boys.

“My first year in the classroom was extremely busy, but the greatest take away was the opportunity to work with students, teachers, parents and administration,” said McKenna.

Moving up from the second grade, McKenna’s second year of the internship was spent working as a teaching assistant in the fourth grade.

“These two years allowed me to work with experienced teachers and observe what collaboration between teachers and grades looks like,” he said.

Following his internship, McKenna was hired as a full time teacher in the fourth grade where he was asked to take on many roles at the school.

“It may sound corny,” said McKenna, “but I feel like my whole time at CC prepared me for this job… my time at CC allowed me the understanding of looking at the big picture in a student’s life.”

After five years as a teacher in California, a teaching opportunity opened up at the Colorado Academy in Denver. McKenna eagerly jumped at the chance to return to the Centennial State, this time teaching 5th grade.

“I could not be happier. I have had the chance to teach an incredible group of students and work with amazing teachers and parents… Getting to know students in my class has allowed me the opportunity to involve their passions, strengths and to stretch their goals.”

McKenna is looking forward to his second year in Denver at the Colorado Academy, and he is excited to be living back in Colorado close to Colorado College.