MIT Alumna Edriana Cho '08
Edriana Cho selected Seattle University's MIT program because of its focus on social justice, and she is putting those values into practice every day in her highly diverse second grade classroom. "All children, no matter their background or socio-economic status, have the ability to learn and be successful with the right guidance and environment," says Cho.
MIT Alumna Zenaida Olivas '16
Zenaida started working in her father’s tax-preparation business for the Latino community in the third grade. By college, the trilingual daughter of Mexican and Filipina immigrants was preparing complex returns and had her own client load. Zenaida discovered how important, yet challenging, it was to empower her clients by educating them about complex financial matters. It’s a lesson she carries into her career as a public middle-school teacher of special education and math.
“You need to know where the blocking point is and how to address it,” says Zenaida, a College of Education alumna. “In math, a lot of the blocking point is caused by a negative disposition leading people to think they are not smart or good at math. Once that disposition is changed, students will grow in leaps and bounds.”
Gracious and diplomatic Zenaida believes in “valuing my students as individuals.” She remembers what it felt like to have teachers who “didn’t see me.” More than once she advocated for herself around issues of curriculum, race and fairness. Once when a teacher’s mistake resulted in an uncharacteristically low grade, Zenaida had the error corrected, but found it curious that the teacher hadn’t questioned why an “A” student suddenly got an “F.”
Zenaida sees middle school as a pivotal time for empowering students who have been disenfranchised. “It is a time of the most self-growth, and that is where the most guidance is needed, especially for students of color.”
Being a person of color, Zenaida says, didn’t automatically qualify her as a “culturally responsive” teacher. For that, she credits Seattle U’s master’s in teaching program, which gave her a “vocabulary” for validating her students. Helping them to feel valued, seen and empowered is not unlike teaching them to solve a math problem, she says.
“Math is a tool. It teaches us how to persevere, how to have a goal and look at the process. As teachers, our process is not just to teach content, but to teach our students to be people as well.”