By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
FIU’s Creating Latino Access to a Valuable Education (CLAVE) project – a collaboration between the College of Education at FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools – was a finalist for the 2013 Examples of Excelencia at the graduate level. The project was honored as one of America’s top programs for increasing academic opportunities and achievement for Hispanic students.
Elected officials and higher education leaders from across the country joined Excelencia in Education at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 1 to recognize CLAVE and other programs throughout the nation.
“It’s a great accomplishment and we’re very honored to have been selected as a finalist,” said College of Education Dean Delia Garcia, who traveled to the nation’s capital for the ceremony. “This announcement brings a lot of recognition to the kind of work we’ve been doing for the last five years.”
The CLAVE program, which is funded through a $2.8 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, focuses on improving education in urban environments. It has provided tuition scholarships to Hispanic teachers and administrators from the M-DCPS district seeking advanced degrees for three years.
“We wanted to better prepare teachers to function in urban environments and schools that are confronted with challenging realities and to meet those challenges head on,” Garcia said. “We need teachers who can be able to navigate through that and be effective with their students. Students don’t always come fully prepared and teachers must address all those instructional needs and be creative in how they engage those students.”
Garcia recognizes the challenges teachers face in urban education — including a lack of parent involvement, poverty and lack of resources to name a few — and looked for participants who were actively looking to improve their schools and surrounding communities.
Those participants were brought in as part of a cohort, or small group, of fellow teachers or administrators to go through the program as a team.
“There’s a bond that’s created and they become like a family, supporting each other,” said Garcia of bringing in the teachers and administrators as part of a cohort. “There are great graduation rates because of that. They take responsibility for each other and it does work.”
A LEARNING FAMILY
This was especially true for Catherine Fernandez, a fifth-grade language arts teacher at G.W. Carver Elementary School in Miami, who made the decision to get a master’s degree in Urban Education through the CLAVE project.
“We were like a family. I’m still close to three of the teachers who were with me and I always felt like I could go to Dean Garcia at any time and ask a question,” said Fernandez, who completed the master’s program in 2012 along with 10 others in her cohort. “They were all there to help you learn.”
Despite many of the members of her cohort being at different stages in the process of getting their doctorate, Snapper Creek Elementary principal Mirta Segredo still remains in contact with several other administrators and values the group dynamic the CLAVE project offers.
Conversations about reading material or research articles have enriched the learning process for Segredo while also establishing a bond with other administrators in her position.
“Someone else in the group might have had experience in a situation I might be going through as an administrator and we would be able to get a different perspective,” Segredo said. “Having that network and those conversations has been very insightful.”
AGENTS OF CHANGE
When the opportunity to get her master’s degree at FIU surfaced thanks to the CLAVE project, Maria Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity.
Rodriguez, a science teacher at Shadowlawn Elementary School in Miami, is one of dozens of Hispanic elementary school teachers and administrators who have benefitted from the program and as a result has taken on more of a leadership role at her school as a science coach, helping colleagues find effective ways to teach their students.
“A lot of our teachers become leaders in their schools,” Garcia said. “They become chairs of departments or community groups and some of them have gone the administrator route. They become true change agents and want to change the system.”
Fernandez added: “I learned to be a leader, not a follower. This program inspired me and challenged me to become a better teacher and a better person.”