How One Teacher’s ‘Bicultural’ Approach to Dual Language Education Instills Cultural Pride in Her Scholars

Perla Torres teaches Pre-K in a dual language classroom at Democracy Prep at the Stewart Campus. Her classroom is made up of three, four, and five year olds, some who are native Spanish speakers and some who are native English speakers.

Perla sees her own story reflected in her scholars. Perla was born in El Paso, Texas, but raised in Mexico until she began elementary school. Just like her scholars, she received a bilingual education in Texas. During Kindergarten and 1st grade, she received instruction in Spanish. In the 2nd grade, her teachers taught in a combination of both Spanish and English. In the 3rd grade, she was in a classroom exclusively taught in English. Perla credits her bilingual education with her success academically and professionally.

“In high school, I took AP Spanish,” Perla said. “I was able to get almost a perfect score, and that put me almost a year ahead in college. My [bilingualism] is a big part of me graduating college in 3 years.”

She is excited to help her scholars begin their journey to bilingualism. Teaching her scholars how to speak, read, and write in a new language is just one component of her job as a bilingual teacher.

“To me, [bilingualism] begins with being proud of your identity, [even] from [my scholars’] age,” said Perla. “If it wasn’t for me being proud of my identity and the fact that I speak Spanish, I would have never taken that AP test, and I would have never graduated a whole year earlier from college.”

Perla has cultivated a classroom culture that affirms her scholars’ cultural identity.

“I think ‘bicultural education’ should replace the term ‘bilingual education’ because I think it’s impossible to separate language from culture,” said Perla. “We [as teachers] need to take time to learn and ask questions so our students feel like they’re important and they’re being respected. Sometimes you [as an immigrant and teacher] may be ashamed of your identity or your traditions or where you come from. But if you went through [coming to a new country], then as a teacher, you should teach [scholars] to not be ashamed and take pride in who they are.”

Perla wants to encourage her scholars’ families to be proud of their heritage as well.

“With the way politics is going, I feel like our families are trying to hide or they are ashamed of their identities and who they are,” said Perla. “So I thought, ‘It’s a perfect time for me to get my teaching certification, teach [in a] bilingual [class], and give a sense of pride [and show] we should never be ashamed of who we are.’ And that’s what I did, and I plan to do it for a long time.”

Are you passionate about bilingual education? Democracy Prep is looking for great bilingual teachers like Perla who can support our scholars on the road to college. To apply to be a bilingual teacher at Democracy Prep, click here. To learn more about Democracy Prep, click here.

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