Jeanette Millan believes that teaching a child to be bilingual is a gift she can give.
Although she was referring to her 5-year-old Elián, she is also talking about the 20 students she teaches at Burley Primary in the two-way dual language Kindergarten class.
“I have always loved my language. My mom would tell me ‘Keep your Spanish. Know the language’ – that was pushed on me,” said Millan.
Behind Millan’s desk on the wall states in Spanish: Being bilingual is a super power. Certainly her students feel powerful when she teaches them in two languages.
Millan speaks only Spanish at home to teach Elián the importance of knowing the language. Although she thinks in Spanish and English, most of her day in her dual language class at school is in Spanish.
“We learn math in English, and I give some general directions in English,” said Millan. “But mostly we speak Spanish.”
With half of her class only knowing English, she uses a variety of teaching methods with her students, and they each have a buddy who speaks the other language.
“I usually show books, get up and use movement, ask questions, show pictures, sing songs and have centers.
“They absorb it. I can build that foundation. They learn so fast and it opens doors for them,” she said.
Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Millan moved here when she was nine years old. All she knew in English were her numbers. Her Grandfather was from Texas and moved to Mexico where he met her grandmother. Millan’s mother wanted the family to move to Texas for better opportunities.
“I had fun and felt safe when I grew up in Mexico,” she said. “I played with friends in the street.
“My parents worked for a better life. We were blessed in Mexico,” she said. “In America it was a different quality of life – access to more material things.”
Millan attended Slack Elementary, Lufkin Middle School and Lufkin High School where she graduated in 2007. She enjoyed computer classes and one of her favorite teachers was Robyn Segrest.
“She (Segrest) was like a friend,” said Millan. “She’s the best. She gave me advice.”
Millan went to Angelina College majoring in education and after a year married her husband, Jonny Vanegas. She ended up finishing her degree at Stephen F. Austin State University changing her major from education to business and accounting.
“I should have stayed in education,” she said.
She worked for Jay Jackson at State Farm Insurance for seven years. At that job, a co-worker led her back to her love for education.
“I was talking to a co-worker about how I should have stayed in education, and he said, ‘You can do that through Alt Cert’. He told me about it, and I looked into it. I took all the tests including the bilingual exam and got this job.”
Alt Cert is an alternative certification program that allows an individual to teach while becoming certified. Although Millan had to leave State Farm Insurance when she got her certification, she praised Jay Jackson and how supportive he was of her decision.
In the dual language program, Millan tells parents who are hesitant of the program because they don’t speak Spanish themselves and are afraid they can’t help their child at home, that there are resources that can help.
“I tell parents there are resources,” she said. “The kids are smart and eager to be here. They may not be able to help at home, but the students are here and listening, which makes them a step ahead.
“When we come back from Christmas break, I tell the students, ‘No translating. I’m getting you ready’. It’s a big difference. I’m impressed by how much they have grown.”
Millan said by the end of the school year, the students know their letters, names, sounds and can even write a complete sentence in Spanish.
When Millan isn’t teaching Spanish, she enjoys eating out at Herraduras with her family, watching her son play t-ball and planning a summer trip to Hawaii. Her family likes watching a Spanish travel blog called Sin Postal. Her son even enjoys the show.
She also has a few dogs who are part of the family: German Shepherd, Rex; Chihuahua, Toby and Yellow Lab, Ollie.
Millan loves her job and teaches her students about her heritage. She is proud to share her childhood culture with her students and campus.
When her students get frustrated and think that they can’t translate Spanish, she always tells her students, ‘You know more than you think you do’. And sure enough, they do.