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  • Writer's pictureChristina Mesk

¡Aprenderemos Juntos! We Will Learn Together!

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Since our arrival on July 17th, our itinerary has been filled with school visits, cultural excursions, workshops on the Colombian Education System and panel discussions with students, teachers and administrators. I truly intended to write my blog entries with immediacy, but there have been many days I have been so tired, I have just fallen into my hotel bed. At the end of each day, I have had innumerable thoughts and ideas that I want to share with others, but I am finding that I need time and space for a genuine and articulate reflection.

I anticipate that I will be writing about my field experience in #Colombia for many weeks after I depart Bogotá.

My favorite experience thus far has been my visit to Ramón de Zubiría sede, a public middle school in Bogotá. We were welcomed so warmly by the students and staff at Ramón de Zubiría sede! Our host was Milena Niño, an English teacher at the school. At the start of the visit, we were guests at a student-led outdoor celebration for Colombian Independence day.

After that beautiful Independence Day Celebration and meeting so many enthusiastic students, I was partnered with Gloria Rojas, a special education teacher. Gloria was such a gracious host! She asked me if I was a Spanish speaker because she was not a proficient English speaker. I shared with her that I did not speak Spanish very well.

She responded, "Está bien. Aprenderemos juntos."

She brought me to her office, which also serves as her classroom space. Gloria very generously shared the tools and strategies she used to support her students with disabilities, which were not very different from my own tools and strategies. She very patiently responded to my questions that were awkwardly phrased in a mix of Spanish and English and listened carefully as I attempted to answer her questions in Spanish. She shared student work with me and showed me how her student PIARs or IEPs were organized. We compared school terms with the help of a wall calendar. We started discussing the types of disability classifications of the students we teach and she used her reading materials and classroom posters to share that she wanted to build student confidence by developing growth mindset and leadership skills in her students. Although our conversation started out awkward and slow, by the end we were laughing and had started establishing a relationship with each other.

About 10 minutes before our time was up, several of her students joined us. I could immediately see that she was beloved and treasured by those students! One of her students brought her an arepa for lunch and wanted to share an original electronica musical composition he had just finished. She was eager to hear it and the pride in his ABILITIES was tangible. She prompted him to show his new composition to me! It was beautiful! After praising his composition, I had some time to speak with Gloria and her students. From our interactions, it was clear that Gloria's office/classroom is a safe and welcoming space for her students. Gloria reminds me very much of some of the colleagues that I work with in the Special Education Department at PS 1, The School of Leadership & Creativity. Gloria prioritizes building relationships with her students so that she can help them to develop a growth mindset as she supports them with their academic skills.

This observation led me to reflect on the idea that certain types of people are drawn to certain types of teaching positions and Special Education teachers are often the most empathetic adults in a school building. Special Education teachers at both PS 1 and Ramón de Zubiría sede put as much emphasis on social emotional growth as they do academic achievement.

I was somewhat devastated when Milena came to get me for the next part of our school visit! Being paired with Gloria for a little over a half hour was one of the most meaningful 30 minutes of my FTGC Field Experience thus far. We didn't share a common language, but we did share the same passion and love for students with disabilities and a similar teaching philosophy. Gloria's warm personality, deep questions and willingness to share her teaching philosophy, students, strategies, culture and language made me feel less like a visitor and more like I had gained another like-minded colleague. Prior to this field experience, I didn't have any knowledge of what special education looked like in #Colombia or the professional language that would be used to describe special education. I didn't want to carry any expectations out of respect for Colombian culture.

Getting the opportunity to have a brief dialogue with Gloria was a beautiful way for me to begin to understand what access and equity looks like for students with disabilities at Ramón de Zubiría sede. ¡Muchas gracias Gloria por tu tiempo y colaboración!

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