Albuquerque Bilingual Students see Themselves in School Leadership

In school, Jessica Villalobos could not see herself. People who looked like her, shared her background, who spoke Spanish were nowhere to be seen in the textbooks, novels, and films at her school.

“I saw windows, but no mirrors,” she says. “These windows into the dominant culture helped me understand the wider world. But I had to figure out for myself how somebody like me fit into that world.”

Then she took that world by storm. 

She excelled at school and studied to be an educator in college. “Like most young adults, I wanted to make a difference in the world.”  The difference between her and most other young adults is that she pursued that ideal with uncommon passion and discipline. 

Starting her career as a Spanish teacher at Albuquerque Public Schools, she also became the only female coach of a boys’ soccer team in the district. If the boys thought they might push the limits with their petite young female teacher, they were sadly mistaken. Any boy stepping out of line was soon seen running laps. “Lots of running,” said one of her players, “especially if she heard you say a bad word.”

After fifteen years of teaching and coaching, Jessica was named Senior Director of the Albuquerque Public Schools Office of Language and Cultural Equity overseeing the sixty-six bilingual programs in the district. Once again, she saw an opportunity to make a difference in kids’ lives and pursued it tenaciously. 

In three short years, her office has provided bilingual programs with culturally responsive libraries so that Latinx, African-American, and Native American children will see themselves in mirrors at school. She also provided programs with ChromeBooks. “It’s an equity issue,” she says. “English language arts programs always had priority for technology. Now the bilingual programs don’t have to fight and beg for access to technology.”

Last year, four hundred Albuquerque students received a New Mexico Seal of Bilingualism and Biliteracy. This is what brought her to the Avant offices in Eugene. “STAMP is a great way to gauge student progress towards the Seal of Biliteracy,” she says, “and I like to get a feel for our partners. The staff here at Avant really cares about kids, and that matters a lot to me.”

She is particularly interested in using STAMP to qualify students for the Global Seal of Biliteracy. “The New Mexico standard is Intermediate-Low (Level 4), but lots of our students score higher than that,” she says. “The Global Seal of Functional Fluency (Intermediate-Mid) and Working Fluency (Advanced-Low) are great credentials for kids that can save them money in college tuition or give them a leg up in the job market.”

In addition to the practical advantages of the Global Seal, recognizing bilingual students’ assets affirms their linguistic and cultural identity. 

Unlike Jessica when she was in school, Albuquerque students can now see themselves and see their heritage valued and recognized. But books and materials are not the only mirrors. They can see themselves in Jessica Villalobos.  

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