What are the rituals in your school that contribute to a culture of inclusion? Re-Imagining Migration had the opportunity to meet Sandy Mendoza during a presentation for Emily Francis’ #PD4Newcomers. Sandy describes herself as a teacher, an advocate for English Learners, and a first-generation Mexican-American. She recently spoke with our Executive Director Adam Strom, about a project she organized with her students that was designed to promote belonging for all students at her school.
Adam Strom: Sandy, before we speak about the project, tell us a little about yourself as a teacher. How do you think your experience as a first-generation Mexican-American shapes your approach to teaching?
Sandy Mendoza: I spent the first 5 years of my life in Mexico City. I returned to the US just in time to start Kindergarten. I did not speak English and have very vivid memories of being a non-English speaker in school. I grew up in Los Angeles, where many cultures thrive simultaneously. I spoke fluent “Spanglish”. I started spending my vacation time in Mexico City. I was the “prima Americana”… the non- Spanish speaking cousin. Eventually, I became bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. These experiences allow me to understand how our students feel about being in a new country. I also understand the need to be seen and heard and understood. I want to give newcomers the tools they need to thrive, not just survive.
Connecting with Re-Imagining Migration
A.S.: I’m thrilled that we connected and you had the opportunity to learn about Re-Imagining Migration’s approach. You’ve been teaching for a while, and I’m sure you’ve attended a lot of professional development. What stood out for you from the presentation we shared with #PD4Newcomers?
S.M. There were several topics that stood out during the presentation. We often speak of challenges immigrants face. I appreciated the attention placed on the resiliencies our students and their families bring with them. I also loved your comment about students needing a “shared understanding with each other.” One of the goals of my International Cafe group is to provide a space for our newcomers to connect. They connect through shared stories, experiences, and struggles. Of course, your idea of making diversity visible really struck a chord with me. Allowing our international students to stand out and be leaders in events that promote happiness and welcoming feelings was a perfect way to promote diversity.
Students as Leaders
A.S. How did that idea turn into a project?
S.M. Four years ago, I started an International Cafe group. I meet with students that have been in the US for one year or less. We talk about procedures in school, their thoughts, experiences in their journey, and many other topics. During the #PD4Newcomers presentation, I thought it would be such an incredible opportunity to have our English learners welcome our bus riders and do so in different languages. They often feel shy about speaking up or being in the spotlight. I wanted to shine some light on the students that may have not otherwise chosen to participate in such events. They need to feel seen, embraced and welcomed and that is what they provided to other students at school.
A.S. Tell me more…
S.M. I thought it would be fantastic to welcome our bus riders as they walked into our school. I talked to my International Cafe students about it. They immediately loved the idea of welcoming their classmates as they arrived in the morning. It was a “safe” project because they would all be greeting students together and they would not really have to speak. They decided to create posters, use pompoms and chose which languages to use on the posters. They designed the posters and selected a date to greet students as they arrived at school. My goal was to create a spotlight on our newcomers and have them feel empowered like they were capable of being leaders within their new school community.
The Impact on Students
A.S. What do you think your students took away from the project? How was it received by their peers at school? What kind of feedback did you receive?
S.M. My International Cafe students were ecstatic! The looks on their faces said it all. They were waving and wishing the students a good morning in different languages. They felt seen and so proud of themselves. Their peers were surprised and loved being greeted with music and smiles. One 5th grader said, “Wow this is the best morning of my life!”. Other students asked if they could be part of the International Cafe group. Our students felt like rockstars!
A.S. I love that. Thank you for sharing your work, And, thank you for being an advocate for your students. We hope to see you at another Re-Imagining Migration event soon.
S.M. Thank you for providing information and ideas for teachers working with multilingual students. We are often so caught up with the academics, we forget that the social-emotional component is so important. Our student’s lives have been turned upside down. It is up to us to unravel some of the confusion and welcome them with all that they bring. Looking forward to future events!