Alene Aguilar-McKenzie, a teacher at the Sarah Greenwood K-8 School in BPS, has been working to create curriculum in her Spanish classes that gives students opportunities to critically reflect on their own identities, histories, and communities as immigrants or children of immigrants. The units she has submitted to the archive are built around rich texts that offer opportunities to talk about Latinx identity, assimilation in the United States, and poverty and immigration.
For Alene, the political dimension of ethnic studies teaching is connected deeply to the personal. She herself, like many of her students, is an immigrant to the United States, coming to Boston from El Salvador as an adult with a family. She is intimately familiar with the challenges many immigrants face economically and culturally, as well as emotionally, as they encounter the harsher realities behind the “American Dream.” And when students at her school are bullied or made fun of for speaking Spanish as their first language, she steps in unequivocally to defend them, citing her own connection to that experience as a native-Spanish speaker herself.
The curriculum Alene uses helps students connect with their own identities, both through text and through having conversations with their families and community members. When teaching the text El Soñador, a fictionalized biography of Pablo Neruda, for example, Alene assigns students the task of writing about a person in their life who they admire and who has supported them, just as Neruda’s uncle supported him as a young poet. She teaches Me Llamo Maria Isabel and has students ask their families the story of their own names.
Ultimately, Alene sees her role as a teacher as a bridge-builder who connects students not only with their own histories, but with the people in their lives who belong to their community. She says, “We want our students to make the connection with their culture, their parents’ heritage, and connecting with their family and people in their lives who have their own histories.”