By Cristina C. Gonzáles
Most of my most meaningful memories of elementary school involve two things: science and not being able to speak English. I attended elementary school in San Antonio, Texas in the early 90’s. As a native Spanish speaker, I started pre-k not being able to communicate with my teacher and many of the students and faculty. As a kindergartener, I began attending a relatively new elementary school in my neighborhood, Candlewood Elementary. At the time, we were the Candlewood Challengers. Yes, named after the Challenger Space Shuttle mission where the first teacher astronaut, Krista McAuliffe, unfortunately, died.
As you can imagine, our campus was big on Science. We had Science Clubs for all grade levels; there were pictures and posters of space and science-related things all over our schools. I remember reading science books all the time. I can even remember our school shirts with the Challenger printed on them!
My first time ever traveling without my parents and family was a school field trip in fifth grade to Space Center Houston. I enjoyed every minute of it. Getting to see the images of the astronauts and all the exhibits were so much fun. I loved and raved about it so much that my parents took our family on a trip to Space Center later that summer. All of this made such a big impression on me that I began to imagine myself becoming an astronaut one day.
I was fortunate enough that on this campus, there were faculty and staff that spoke Spanish and also had an ESL program. I remember loving my kindergarten teacher. She was so attentive and gentle with all of us and it was so comforting when she’d talk in Spanish to me when she knew I needed it. I left my class a few times a week with a small group of other students with an ESL teacher. I can’t remember the gentlemen’s name, but he was really funny. He made that time away from our classroom fun. I learned English quickly compared to my peers and by the end of 1st grade/beginning of 2nd grade, I exited the ESL program. That meant I was “finally good enough” to join my peers in an all English classroom.
Although now our State requires bilingual programs if there are 20 or more students who speak the same language which isn’t English, the end goal is still the same as an ESL program, to completely take away the first language and only be instructed in English. To continue to nourish our native language development, it rests squarely on parents and caregivers. Now as a bilingual teacher and a parent myself, I know that this isn’t easy.
Somewhere along the way, I gave up on my dream of becoming an astronaut, it seemed silly. I still loved science especially space exploration, but I realize now that I never saw anyone who looked like me as an astronaut. Unconsciously, I told myself that there was no way that a Brown girl like me could be an astronaut.
So how can we change this for our children and students?
Books are the perfect way to continue to expose them to the Spanish language and to enforce the idea that science is for everyone. With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) being a big topic in education at the moment, it’s the perfect time to show our children and students that they too can be a part of this field and possibly as a career path.
Below I am providing you with a few Spanish and Bilingual books to perhaps add to your library at home or find at your local public library.
Ada Magnífica, Científica by Andrea Beaty
This story is about Ada, a little girl who doesn’t talk until she is three years old. When she finally does start speaking it’s to question everything. She is curious and wants to investigate everything around her. Sometimes this gets her into trouble but is lucky enough that her family realizes that they should nourish her curiosity.
Rosa Pionera, Ingeniera by Andrea Beaty
Another in the series by Andrea Beaty is this story about Rosa a little girl who loves to build things. She does it in secret and never lets anyone see her creations. This changes when someone special in her family visits and teaches her about resiliency and working towards your goals no matter what anyone thinks.
¡Fushhh! El Chorro de Inventos súper húmedos de Lonnie Johnson by Chris Barton
Did you know that the invention of one of the most popular toys was a complete accident? This book is about Lonnie Johnson, a NASA engineer who worked on the Galileo mission that would orbit Jupiter, who loved inventing things from a very young age. Even though he continued to hear “No” from company after company, when he finally got a “Yes”, he left his job at NASA and began inventing full time.
El niño que alcanzó las estrellas by Astronaut José M. Hernández
José was just a boy, working as a migrant worker with his parents from Mexico when he fell in love with the stars. After witnessing the first moon landing, he decided he wanted to become an astronaut, but José struggled in school because his family was constantly moving and he didn’t speak English. A teacher saw his love for science and was able to convince his family to stay in the United States permanently. We learn about how José became an electrical engineer and eventually an astronaut even though his astronaut application was rejected 11 times by NASA.
Although I never became an astronaut, Science is still a part of my life. I get to teach my students and children all about it. I have been able to return to Space Center Houston to attend the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) twice. I have even been able to pretend to train as an astronaut after completing the astronaut dive and flight training. Next year, I will get to be there as a presenter. Teaching and parenting have given me the gift of pretending to still be a kid who can see herself among the stars.
Cristina C. Gonzales has taught in the state of Texas for the past 12 years, 11 of those in the bilingual classroom, and is currently a Kinder Bilingual teacher. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies EC-4th grade and a Master of Education in Special Education with an Educational Diagnostician Certificate from the University of Houston-Victoria. Growing up as an emergent bilingual student in Texas Public Education, she knows from personal experience what the needs of students in the bilingual program are. She shares this experience with her students and their families as a way to connect and promote biliteracy and bilingualism.