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.

From Words to Works Writing Workshop March 11, 2016

Join the Education Department and the Colorado Literacy and Learning Center for a special workshop on Friday March 11, 2016, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at Gates Common Room. “From Words to Works: Developing Writing Skills” will explore useful strategies for developing students’ writing skills.

Professionals: $105; Students: $45
Registration Deadline: March 9, 2016

Visit to register.

March 11 writing workshop at Gates Common Room

March 11 writing workshop at Gates Common Room




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.

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the San Luis Valley

Mary Slayden with her class in Center, Colorado

Mary Slayden with her class in Center, Colorado, with Principal Sarah Vance. The group is wearing t-shirts presented to the class as a gift.

Pumpkin day in Center, Colorado

Chelo Barton with students on Pumpkin Day in Center, Colorado

Andy Orozco Rivas and Center student with a prize pumpkin

Andy Orozco Rivas and Center student with a prize pumpkin

Teddy Rose with lunch buddies at Center School District

Teddy Rose with lunch buddies at Center School District

Lykkefry Bonde works with students in the library

Lykkefry Bonde works with students in the library

Jean Sung with Center students at lunch

Ruthie Rabinovitch and Jean Sung with Center students at lunch

Teddy Rose with student during lunch

Teddy Rose with student during lunch

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.

Reimagining the MAT Teacher Preparation Curriculum

On the heels of introducing our new education major and education minor programs, the Colorado College Education Department is in the process of redesigning its Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) curriculum in time for the 2015-16 academic year. Over the past few decades teacher preparation curricula have been based on the behaviorist/scholarly/academic model of teacher preparation, which places mastery of content area first and foremost.

By contrast, Colorado College’s restructured MAT curriculum employs a learner-centered model which emphasizes a developmental perspective and the learning of pedagogy in order to be a great teacher of one’s discipline. The new CC MAT model focuses on teacher dispositions as well as identifying personal characteristics and mechanisms that lend themselves beyond mere survival and toward teacher “thrival” in the classroom.

The learner-centered model of teacher preparation is another example of CC’s Education Department being on the cutting edge. Other institutions such as the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are looking to our redesign as a model for restructuring teacher preparation, featuring an undergraduate major in education paired with a learner-centered graduate program.

“Black Like Me” – CC Students Experience Life on an HBCU Campus

Dr. Manya Whitaker had two goals in mind when she designed her course, “The Tradition of African American Education and the Black Bourgeoisie.” First, demonstrate that the purpose and process of schooling looks different outside of Colorado College. It looks different in different locales and is experienced differently by different people.

Second, include a Black History component to the course. Since there were no Black History courses at Colorado College, Whitaker decided that the course would be more powerful if it took place at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). (Black History courses at CC will be offered regularly beginning in 2015-16.) While there, her students would visit African American churches to experience them as centers of activity that gave rise to HBCUs and the civil rights movement.

The National Civil Rights Museum. The Exhibit path ends with the Lorraine Motel, both the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and the presumed site from which his killer is presumed to have fired shots.

The National Civil Rights Museum. The exhibit path ends at the Lorraine Motel, showing the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was standing at the time of his death.


Nashville, Tennessee was an ideal setting for the course because of its unique intersection of race and class. The city is home to Fisk University, an HBCU attended by children of elite or bourgeoisie black families, and instrumental during the Civil Rights era. Working class black families sent their children to Tennessee State University, and Meharry Medical College continues to graduate more than 50% of African American medical doctors in the U.S. Interestingly, the first one to six presidents of all HBCUs were typically wealthy white men associated with the Baptist or Methodist Church; the HBCUs themselves were founded with missionary dollars.

The Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

The Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

CC students take line dance class at a Nashville area church. Participant ages ranged from high school to 83 (woman at front in purple shirt).

CC students take a line dancing class at a Nashville area church. Participant ages ranged from high school to 83 (woman at front in purple shirt).

Whitaker’s students spent just over three weeks living in dorm rooms at Fisk University and attending classes with HBCU students at both Fisk and Tennessee State. When they were not attending classes, the CC students visited African American churches, the National Civil Rights Museum, and sampled soul food at four different restaurants.

The CC students experienced a number of takeaways as a result of the course:

They came to understand what it is to live as “othered,” and for their “otherness” to be recognized as the primary characteristic that made them a minority in the HBCU community. For example, a student with blond hair felt it necessary to clear her hair out of the shower drain because everyone would know it was hers. Upon return, many of Whitaker’s students found themselves feeling more compassionate towards their fellow (minority) students at Colorado College.

Institutional Heritage: HBCU students’ strong relationship to their institution. HBCU students’ sense of institutional heritage extended well beyond having knowledge of their university’s history and traditions. They viewed going to college as a privilege. As representatives of the African American community they felt a shared responsibility to do well in school and to give back to their community. The Colorado College students had never experienced people their own age with such a strong sense of collective responsibility, nor had they experienced such a strong fluidity between the community and the universities.

CC Dean of Students Mike Edmonds joins the ED250 class for soul food and fellowship.

Colorado College Dean of Students Mike Edmonds joins the ED250 class for soul food and fellowship.

Soul Food, and More Soul Food: Biscuits and gravy. Sausage, bacon, and barbecued ribs. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, grits, and greens – always cooked with ham. And. No. Gym. Whitaker’s students initially loved soul food. Then they realized how fattening it was. The vegetarians in the group became painfully aware of what it was like to live a place where their cultural norms were not accessible. As the students ate their way around town, they found favorite dishes to sample at each establishment. One student made it his mission to try the barbecue ribs at every restaurant.

Respectability Politics: CC students had difficulty coming to terms with the highly prescribed codes of conduct at HBCUs that were both unspoken and highly publicized. Posters on campus delineated appropriate attire for different audiences and occasions. It was understood that sex before marriage was strongly discouraged, to the extent that those – especially women – who did not follow protocol were greatly disparaged in campus gossip circles. There were rules for everything from how to present oneself with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or the number of visitors per room permitted in the dorms. What seemed like an infringement of student freedoms at Colorado College could also be interpreted as a code of behavior designed to produce personal and professional success in HBCU students who are expected to give back to their community.

When asked whether there were any unexpected results from the course, Dr. Whitaker identified the process of reflecting on her role as a professor. She discovered that having a shared experience and shared cultural reference with HBCU students meant not having to self-monitor the cadence of her speech, vocabulary and even body language as she does in non-HBCU environments. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Fisk cafeteria every day during lunch, when students danced the hour away to a DJ playing trap music, a subset of hip-hop. A pleasantly surprised Whitaker remarked, “It was nice to feel my personal and professional lives overlap in ways I never would have anticipated.”

From the success of this year’s course in Nashville, Dr. Whitaker plans to offer the course on a regular basis every other year.

Student Reflections
The Black Experience: As Told By Nashville,” video by Melissa Seehausen and Erin Luby