July 2017 Featured Educator: Margarita Ugalde

Where do you teach? What ages/grade(s)? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school or program?

My name is Margarita and I teach at my own home child care. I have been running this program for 4 years now. I currently serve children ages 3 months to 4 years. I am licensed to serve children from 3 months to 12 years old. I am also a bilingual family child consultant, since some providers only speak Spanish. So, I offer help translating books, forms and any documents that they may not understand.

What is your program like? Can you tell me a little about its location, size and about the composition of the student body?

My program is located on the east side of Madison, WI, which is a diverse area of the city. My program is run like a home care center; however, it is actually not in my home. I have the luxury of running the program in one half of my duplex, so I am able to separate my home from the center, but still maintain the home feel. Like many home care providers, my two children also attend the program. My children are 1 year and 3 years old. Since we are a mixed-age program (meaning we serve a range of ages) it is a bit more work from a programming standpoint in that we have to prepare materials appropriate for each of the children and be aware of what each child needs. I have another teacher, who also speaks Spanish, who works in the program so that we can provide individual attention and small group activities.

This program works to support dual-language learners, and we even have one child who is developing three languages (Russian, English, and Spanish!) I notice that with his Dad, this child speaks English, with his Mom, Russian, and with the teachers, Spanish and English. I speak Spanish and English and we do everything in both languages. We read and do the activities in both. Some of the kids prefer to speak their home language, and we want to honor that, so I tend to use the language that they feel most comfortable with when working with them, but we also want the children to continue to develop both English and Spanish. Even if the children choose to respond in their home language, often English, I can tell they understand what I am saying or reading to them in Spanish and I know this is part of the language learning process.

With a home care center, do you have to adhere to early learning standards? How do you approach your planning?

I follow early learning standards, but I accommodate each child based on where they are in their learning and development. I rely on ongoing observations to continually see where children are, and what we should work on next. I think it is very important to base our curriculum on what the children are interested in and what they like to do.

How do you interact with families in a home care center? Why do you think they are drawn to your program model?

Being a home care provider gives me the opportunity to see and talk with parents a lot. Many of my families enroll their children in my program because it is important to them that their children become bilingual. Some of our families are bilingual and others only speak Spanish or English at home. So it is important to them that their children hear the other language at our center. Many of our families plan to continue their child's dual-language development and look to elementary schools that offer dual-language programs.

How does being a home care provider impact your professional development opportunities or collaboration with others in the field?

I try to connect to others in the field and continue to learn in different ways. I used to do more work as a child care consultant, so I have a lot of connections to the early child care community. I have always been driven to learn independently. I am always reading, taking notes, and continually learning more about how to work with children. I share this information with other providers during my consultations to ensure that we are working towards their goals.

How did you decide to open your own home care center?

I started out volunteering in my child's Head Start Program and enjoyed working with the children. I worked my way through school, got my Early Childhood Education certificate and decided I wanted to open my own program. Now I am a bilingual licensed home care provider.

What is your approach in your classroom towards dual-language learners? What techniques or strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching them?

I think it is most effective to follow the interests and preferred language of the children. And just continuing to scaffold the needs of each child, in the moment. Rather than having a sequence of tasks they all have to follow, I find it is better to let the children choose the activities that interest them and then I try to continually ask questions to push their learning and further their language.

How do you determine or decide what language to focus on in a lesson? Describe your planning process to address the needs of dual–language learners, if possible.

I follow where the children are in their language development, but you have to understand where you want them to go in their development and keep that in mind. So, I may try something out with them to see if they are ready and I watch to see if they are responsive or not. If not, this is something I will note and revisit later.

How do you assess your students' language learning?

I use Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) that is geared at assessing a child's socio-emotional development, along with their overall development from birth to age 6. This includes a parent questionnaire too, which allows me to learn about what families see and hear at home with their child.

Do you and your colleagues have the resources you need to teach dual-language learners adequately? What would you most like to add to your available resources or training?

I wish we could have more pictures for the children that would encourage a discussion or for children to talk about among themselves. Visuals are so helpful. We try to go outside and use nature to talk about what they see, touch, and hear but this isn't possible to do for everything we cover.

How has WIDA helped your work?

I think the WIDA Promising Practices book is wonderful. The examples and reflection questions help me to think about more and different ways to support the children's language and learning.

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