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Bryant Salvatierra

Summer Immersion Reflections



Summer 2016

Finding a path

During my undergrad years, I was tutor at a homework club at an elementary school. The students who were eligible for this support were mostly low income and of minority backgrounds. At the time I was just starting my undergrad career, so I didn’t know much about schooling and education. And I just became curious. Later, I became a research assistant in a project that worked with young autistic kids. I didn’t deal directly with the kids, but I got to follow the research, see how they worked with the children, the materials they used to test them. And I got to participate in some of the research. So I think it was a combination of these experiences that pushed me towards the field of education.

Working with a range of students

Ever since I was little, my family and I would go to Mexico about once a year to visit relatives in the state of Jalisco. So I’ve traveled in Mexico plenty of times before the immersions. My first year immersion was to Merida, Yucatan. Working with the students there was challenging but rewarding because we worked at a school for students with developmental delays like down syndrome and autism. I’d never had the opportunity to work directly with this population of students before. During my first immersion, I learned about myself and grew professionally by working with people from different backgrounds. That’s the only time I have worked directly with students with severe disabilities. I think this expanded my understanding because it allowed me to really get to know them. And although they have limitations, they still have their own strengths, and that’s something I continue to understand in my interactions with all kinds of students.

For the immersion during my second year, we went to Oaxaca. It was really different from the school for students with disabilities in Merida. This was a private school, and I think the most memorable thing for me was the relationships I formed with the students. They were all really curious, and they wanted to know who we were, what do we like to do — lots more about us than just us being their classroom teacher. They even wanted us to play with them during recess, so outside of the classroom, we got to hang out with them and play.

 

Photo: Student named E poses with Bryant in playground

 This student's name is E. Every day, he would give me a hug. Although he had a hearing impairment, that didn't stop him from trying to teach me some sign language with a smile. (Mérida, Yucatán, México, June 2014)

 

Leadership role

On the grant, once you get to your 3rd year, you’re more like a supervisor during the immersion. You oversee the interventions of the other grad students, so it’s very different. I supervised 2 groups of grad students (4 total) and also interacted with administrators and teachers to understand the school’s needs and work out how we could support them. It was a shift in role for me, more of a leadership role. I really enjoyed that position because I got to help my 2 teams work on various issues. I also collaborated with the others in my cohort, and we worked together to create projects that the school needed. This year I did not get the opportunity to work directly with the students. It’s something I really missed. Although we didn’t have that direct intimacy of getting to know students and their struggles, it was great to help the grad students to help their students, so I know I still had an indirect impact on the kids.

Growing confidence

One thing I have definitely gained from my immersion experiences is confidence. Over these last 3 years, at SDSU and on the excursions to Mexico, my Spanish has improved immensely. Even though I’m a native Spanish speaker, I didn’t learn to read or write Spanish until high school. The last 3 years have augmented my confidence and my overall Spanish skills in professional settings with teachers and administrators but also with the parents of the students we work with. I’m more confident in speaking Spanish, and I don’t feel shy or embarrassed or awkward. I’m going to continue practicing and setting goals for myself in the future. The immersions required me to use my Spanish in a professional setting, and this will definitely help me in the future.

I’ve also learned to feel confident to go into a school and work with people I don’t know and be a team player and collaborate on the same goal. It’s been good practice in developing skills that I’ll continue to use in my career.

Understanding cultural norms

Spanish-speaking students may come from low-income homes and families who maybe haven’t finished their formal education, but they definitely value education. The students in Mexico were similar to kids in the U.S. that I have previously worked with. Curious, engaged, wanting to learn. They have many similarities with American kids in my experience. The only difference I found was in classroom behavior and how teachers manage it. In Mexico, when students want to participate, they don’t have to raise their hand and wait for permission to speak. Students were engaged and shouted out when they wanted to participate. Of course, this is something that would be seen as disrespectful in the U.S. — but there, it’s the norm. So when you’re on an immersion, in a different country, you have to understand what is the norm for the culture you’re in. It was strange to us at first, but we got used to that classroom environment.

Memorable experiences

I particularly remember one teacher we worked with in Mexico. She was a young teacher in her 30s, and during our down time we’d talk about our experiences. She was new to her school and had only been there a few months. She shared how challenging it was for the students to experience so much disruption and change and new teachers all the time. There was a lot of turnover, and the students had many teachers during the academic year. She shared how humble she felt and how it was hard for her to manage working with students with disabilities . . . she explained that she liked the challenge as well as the reward of helping these students. I was impressed with her way of being with students and her warm personality.

For me, the most memorable excursion was when we were in Querétaro (June 2016), and we went to visit an indigenous community, Hñahñu, in a little nearby town. The people have a goal to continue to teach the native language to the local community, so it stays alive. They’re also working to create a sustainable local economy where people don’t have to leave their community to find work. They want to create jobs for people there so they can keep their community intact. It was so impressive to see how — not too far from the city — these people have been successful in preserving their language and striving to rely on themselves for food and local economic growth.

 

 

Photo: brothers work to set up family cart
In this photo, 2 brothers are working to set up their family's cart in the downtown area of San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato, México.
They didn't argue or complain; they understood that they have a collective responsibility to their family. (June 2016)
 

Making the most of opportunities

The people I’ve met on the grant are probably the hardest working people and the most determined people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Everyone’s a collaborator. There are many opportunities for people to be leaders, and I find that on the grant, people take the opportunities that have been given to them. Carol has been really great at supporting and guiding us. She’s an excellent teacher and she’s doing great work that’s really needed in today’s classrooms and schools. I’m sure that as long as she continues to renew the grant’s funding, there will be graduate students who want to work with her.

My advice for anyone thinking about becoming a school psychologist is to really look into what a school psychologist does and try to shadow one at a local school. If you think this is a good fit for you, contact one of the grad students in the SDSU program and ask them about it, ask any questions you have. And then definitely apply. It’s hard work, but it’s definitely rewarding, not only for you but for all the people you’ll be working with.

Future plans

My family have been supportive of my educational decisions, although they didn’t really know what a school psychologist was until I explained it to them. My mom has worked in schools for 15 years, and right now she’s an office assistant in a charter school. So she’s more familiar with the educational system, and we sometimes share our school experiences. My parents have enjoyed seeing my commitment to the field of education. I’ve been gone for 8 years in college, but this coming academic year, I’ll be back home in Los Angeles and do my internship there, so they’ll be pretty excited to have me back home for a while.

My plans are to become a school psychologist in a public school somewhere in the LA area, where there’s a very diverse student population. When I meet new students, I like to take an investigative role, being able to ask about the people in their lives, what activities they like, where do they and their family come from, to give me an idea of who they are and their background. I think the immersions and experiences have given me the knowledge and skills to work with any kind of student I might encounter.

 

 

Photo: Students jump in front of Uxmal pyramid

I and my cohort friends, jumping in front of the Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal, Yucatán, México (June 2014).

"My advice for anyone thinking about becoming a school psychologist is to really look into what a school psychologist does and try to shadow one at a local school.

"If you think this is a good fit for you, contact one of the grad students in the SDSU program and ask them about it, ask any questions you have. And then definitely apply.

"It’s hard work, but it’s definitely rewarding, not only for you but for all the people you’ll be working with."