People come to America from all across the world to lead a life of opportunity. For many, it’s not so clear they will ever experience this. By age 3, kids in poverty have heard “30 million fewer words” than their middle and upper-income peers, which means they are already behind when starting school. For Gabriela, a pre-kindergarten teacher, many of her students come from immigrant families – she is all too familiar with how important it is for parents to engage their children at home.
“Parents don’t take the time to read to [their kids] because they are too busy, and give them an iPad so they’re not being read to and not hearing words,” she said. “So I think when the parents come in and ask, “Will my kid be reading by the end of pre-k?” I can’t help but say, “Some might, but some won’t.” Gabriela even further explains that a child being literate is much more than reading – it’s holding their pencil correctly when writing specific letters or refining their motor control. “To them, a letter is a symbol and then they put the sound of the letter to that symbol and they start recognizing the sound with the letter.”
Because Gabriela is originally from Guatemala she has a sense of understanding for the kids she teaches every day. “I didn’t speak English until the end of kindergarten, so I’m sympathetic towards kids who come in and have no idea what I’m saying. I was there – I was one of those kids,” she said. When Gabriela comes across a situation with one of her students who is struggling with literacy, she models her words with behavior to help the student comprehend. Furthermore, she is able to speak Spanish in addition to the English with the kids from immigrant families.
Gabriela is currently living in Houston with her daughter, and son who’s attending college in a nearby city. She enjoys spending time with her dogs, family and learning how to best help her students succeed.