NMSU Professor Reflects on Bilingual STEM Education and Teacher Preparation

New Mexico’s culturally and linguistically diverse population attracted Magdalena Pando from Texas in August 2017, and New Mexico State University’s postdoctoral research opportunities for its students have helped her remain a vital asset to NMSU’s College of Health, Education and Social Transformation.

Pando is an Assistant Professor in Bilingual Education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) for the School of Teacher Preparation, Administration, and Leadership, or TPAL. She is also a senior researcher for Doña Ana County Head Start and coordinator of the bilingual and TESOL program at the school of TPAL.

Pando holds a Ph.D. in the curriculum and teaching at Texas Tech University.

Pando’s research focuses on preparing bilingual and TESOL teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to teach math and science content to English language learners, so that they are equipped to adequately educate culturally and linguistically diverse students.

“It’s about properly preparing these teachers to deliver optimal and equitable learning,” said Pando, a former chemistry teacher.

This includes giving teachers access to the curriculum in students’ native language, learning resources, and assessments in students’ native language versus English only.

“There are several language strategies that can be provided, such as using visuals and anchor charts in English and other languages, not just Spanish,” Pando said. “In STEM, for example, there are many related abstract concepts. Cognates are words that share similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation, such as ‘rush’ and ‘rush’, but if students do not understand concepts in English or Spanish, this strategy becomes ineffective for a student until the concept develops into their own ideas or words.

Pando said that teachers should provide students with concrete learning experiences, so that a once-abstract concept can be converted into a student-specific idea that will become useful to the student.

She added that strategies for teaching English to learners should not just focus on teaching vocabulary and stressed the importance of studying common texts from disciplines like science, as well as the importance vocabulary teaching. Text-based instruction as a whole is also necessary to provide students with equitable learning opportunities.

“In science, there are specific texts, such as explanations and arguments that require explicit linguistic instruction on the structural and linguistic features of those texts,” Pando said.

Asked about the challenges faced by Pando in the field of research, she said, “I would have liked to have had more postdoctoral opportunities, especially opportunities that help graduate doctoral students prepare for research activity. Fortunately, the School of TPAL and NMSU are on a strategic plan to increase enrollment and funding that will help provide these research opportunities.

Rick Marlatt, Acting School Principal of TPAL, called Pando a “tremendous asset” to NMSU.

“Her academic leadership as Principal Investigator for Doña Ana County Head Start helps this vital program meet the needs of students and families in our local communities with outreach and service that directly reflects our NMSU Leads 2025 initiatives. And her expertise and coordination of our bilingual education and TESOL teacher training pathways help the school of TPAL achieve its institutional land-grant and Hispanic-serving mission to maintain a robust, diverse, and culturally and linguistically responsive for the state of New Mexico,” Marlatt said.

Doña Ana County Head Start is a sponsored project that provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to 260 children and their families throughout Doña Ana County. Pando assumed the role in January 2021. The program receives $2.6 million annually to serve students and their families enrolled for services including family outreach, disability, food and nutrition, health, education and mental health services to promote social and emotional well-being. , and to help children prepare for school.

Although the program normally employs around 60 people, it is currently experiencing a staff shortage.

“We have partnered with our early childhood education program and hope to recruit and hire with the goal of having a full staff and maximizing our efforts to serve these 260 children and their families,” Pando said. “In addition, we are experiencing under-schooling as some parents are a little hesitant to send their child to school because they are afraid of the current situation with the pandemic.”

Pando said Doña Ana County Head Start is following the NMSU COVID-19 policy “to a T as our way of prioritizing their child’s safety during our care.”

She added that understaffing and under-enrollment are trends seen by Head Start and Early Head Start programs nationwide.

Author: Adriana M. Chavez

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