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.

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.