Maria Cuellar has been surrounded by Spanish in a world of English. She grew up in a home where only Spanish was spoken but went to school all day speaking English. Now as the Dual Kindergarten teacher at Burley Primary, she has the opportunity to teach in both languages.
Mrs. Cuellar said, “I think it’s amazing! I did my student teaching at Slack Elementary and they had Hispanic teachers. There was a mixture of teachers. Wow! Where has this place been the whole time?! I love it!”.
Mrs. Cuellar’s parents were from Zacatecas, Mexico, and Mrs. Cuellar would travel there to see relatives from time to time.
“I’ve been back to Mexico. I’ve seen real poverty. It makes you grateful for the things we have. My parents have worked really hard,” she said.
Mrs. Cuellar has three sisters and a brother. All sisters have graduated from college, being the first in their family, and have successful careers all because of her parents’ hard work and sacrifice, according to Mrs. Cuellar.
“I have a sister that teaches at Garrett Primary, a sister who is an accountant, one works at National Imaging Systems, and a brother who is in high school,” she said.
Mrs. Cuellar graduated from Hudson High School not really knowing what she would like to do. In high school she took advanced courses, participated in AVID to prepare for college, and played the french horn in the band. Her oldest sister, who is an accountant for Brookshire Brothers, was a role model for her.
She said,”I followed her. I went to Angelina College. I thought I wanted to do economics but changed my plans and went to SFA and got my teaching degree EC (early childhood) through 4th.”
With her plan to be a teacher in mind, she did an internship at Dunbar Primary and her student teaching at Slack Elementary where she found out about the Dual Language program. At the time, Slack Elementary had grades beginning with Kindergarten. When Burley Primary was built, the Dual program and the teachers involved in it, moved to Burley. This is Mrs. Cuellar’s 12th year to teach.
“I have had some great mentors. Mrs. Rubalcaba and Mrs. Luna who is at Slack now,” she said.
She said, “I’m happy where I am. I am giving to my community. I was bilingual because my parents are Spanish. I wasn’t biliterate. The difference in being biliterate is the ability to write and read Spanish properly and have the academic vocabulary not just the basic. Not slang.”
Mrs. Cuellar starts her day at 5:45 a.m. and is at school by 7:30 a.m. She teaches math first in English with her homeroom class and then switches with Mrs. Baldridge’s class to teach them Language Arts, which includes science, social studies, reading and writing. After lunch Mrs. Cuellar’s homeroom class comes back to her classroom for her to teach them Language Arts in Spanish. The students finish up the day with recess and centers. The students have music and PE after lunch every day.
“Parents are more nervous (about Dual Language class) than the kids are. There are so many resources and apps. You can use YouTube and know that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Enjoy it and learn with them. Don’t stress them about it. They take pride in trying to speak it. The students will say “Maestra! Maestra!” And they don’t need me for anything. They just like saying the word.”
Mrs. Cuellar says the students learn from each other and that the classes are mixed of English and Spanish speakers. There are twenty-two students per class. Most of the students have attended a pre-school and know some English and possibly some Spanish. By the end of the year, the students know their letters, sounds, and are starting to decode and read in both languages.
She said, “They can say simple phrases. They have a routine and understand commands. They begin writing and work in small groups. They are learning to become biliterate.”
Mrs. Cuellar thinks very highly of the team at Burley Primary and praised the administration.
She said, “I love it. It’s a nice school. The administrative team is great, very open and wants my opinion. They always follow through with what they say. They’re all great!”
When not teaching Kindergarteners, Mrs. Cuellar loves to spend time with her growing family. She has a two-year-old, Ivan, who is about to be a big brother next week. Mrs. Cuellar and her husband are expecting another baby boy. She will have some time off with her baby but is coming back for Kindergarten graduation to see her students walk the stage.
Thank you, Mrs. Cuellar, for giving our youngest students the foundation they need to be successful in two languages. Best wishes for a happy and healthy delivery next week!