Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Spring 2008
Back to the Future
For Jennifer Bañuelos' fifth grade students, college is just around the corner.
by Emily DiFrisco
Born and raised in Inglewood, California, as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant family, she was the first in her family to attend college. She essentially "went it alone" in navigating the application and financial aid processes. Now more than halfway through her master's program at the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Bañuelos takes the college talk to work—at her student teaching placement, Manzanita Elementary School in Newbury Park, California.
At the school, Bañuelos sees many families like her own. Whether Latino or not, she senses that parents of her students could use some practical college advice. In March, she began a workshop called College Savvy Night, with the purpose of giving parents "what to do now" advice in regard to their children's higher education.
"I hope to build awareness," says Bañuelos. "I hope to inspire and change the community's perspective on college, that higher education can be offered to everyone and that it should be a goal started as early as elementary school, not in the beginning of high school."
Bañuelos also provides parents with tools and resources with which to get started. Included in her materials are topics such as the application process, productive student behavior, financial aid assistance, a list of contacts at the middle and high schools, and a list of helpful Web sites and programs. She uses her own background as a prime example of how one can start with little and become a college graduate, master's student, and a catalyst for positive change in the community.
One crucial element that impacted Bañuelos' educational journey was having great teachers. She remembers three in particular who made a difference and "opened her scope of the world." There was a caring elementary school teacher, a middle school English teacher who made Shakespeare come alive, and a high school trigonometry teacher, whose math tricks she still uses.
Whether in elementary, middle, or high school, Bañuelos worked hard, earning a spot on the honors track. By early high school she had developed another goal: to help others the same way she had been aided, through teaching. She enrolled at California State University, Northridge, where she majored in education and minored in Chicano studies. She went on to choose Pepperdine for her master of arts in education because of its length and practical application. The program combines three years of work into one—and though time-efficient, the schedule is rigorous.
Beginning in August 2007, Bañuelos became one of Pepperdine's eight student teachers at Manzanita Elementary. She was able to teach on the first day of class, an experience she truly enjoyed. "The first day was really funny because the students definitely sized me up," says Bañuelos. "They had the opportunity to ask me questions, and they asked about my favorite food, favorite movie, and everything else they could think of."
According to Pepperdine education professor Kathy Church, the University liaison for Manzanita, teaching on the first day is unique to the partnership of a University/K-12 school or "Professional Development School."
"Student teachers usually don't get to see the first day of school," says Church. "But at Manzanita, they are part of the classroom from day one. They learn so much in preparing for the first day.
In later weeks, Bañuelos had the opportunity to experience a few different grade levels before settling into one grade, five days a week. She currently teaches math, science, and language arts to the "big kids" on campus—the fifth graders.
Other benefits of the Professional Development School include the support and feedback of school teachers and University faculty. Manzanita's on-site liaison, Jessica Moore, supports the school's teachers and student teachers. They employ a technique called "reflective dialogue observations," in which Moore will sit with student teachers in the back of the classroom, pointing out the positive techniques of the principal teacher. "Benchmark" conferences are also held each trimester with Church, Moore, and each student teacher to evaluate his or her progress.
Thus far, Bañuelos has excelled in all aspects of the program. Church calls her mature, professional, motivated, and driven, and "someone who has all the dispositions of a good teacher." She also praises Bañuelos' graduate action research project, the parent workshops, as insightful. "I encourage students to do service-oriented action research projects," she says. "It's just another way to give back to the schools and serve the community."
Indeed, Bañuelos will continue to serve the parents and students of Manzanita Elementary until her year ends in June 2008. Beyond that her goals continue.
"I want to be the most effective teacher I can be," says Bañuelos. "I hope to always be a positive social change agent both within my own classroom and the school community. I want to continue to strive to make a difference in the world and to wake up everyday loving what I do."