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CommonLore—Practitioner Advisory Group

Science Teacher, Middle Grades—St. Athanasius School—Long Beach, CA

—photos included here are from CWI's Summer WEST Institute on Place Based Service-Learning. Alex and her fellow participant teachers took part in a field practicum on Collaborative Ethnography, in downtown Los Angeles.

alex gonzalesAlex feels called to serve as an educator in communities with high needs. As a middle school Math and Science teacher, Alex envisions a school community with a common, shared vision that values a culture of collaboration, social justice, service and sustainability. She is a former STEM teacher and now principal of an urban Catholic elementary K-8 school in a high needs area of Long Beach, California. The school has a reputation for supporting underserved students, including children of low wage workers and undocumented immigrants.

Alex is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer WEST Institute, and is inspired by Freire’s theory of Critical Consciousness and John Dewey’s ideas of connection between democracy and education. She shares that her experience at CWI’s Institute gave her the “opportunity to bridge theory into practice through the use of Service-Learning and Collaborative Ethnography—as a way to have school and community stakeholders engaged in understanding their own local communities, by beginning the dialogue and becoming aware of the needs of their own communities in order to become more action-oriented.”

Alex began her teaching career as an AmeriCorps teacher in Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) PLACE (Partners in LA Catholic Education) Corps program. She is currently in the School Administration M.A. program at LMU’s Institute of School Leadership.

service learningReflecting on the program at LMU and CWI, which both focus on education for social justice, Alex feels that she has now has a deeper understanding and a clearer focus and purpose as an educator. “It has been a transformative experience personally and professionally, and I am excited to learn more and collaborate with educators that have the same mindset and vision.”

Her own background experience in working as a research assistant in a cancer immunotherapy lab for five year influences her work as a science teacher—focused on using inquiry based, hands-on approach and project based learning.

In Alex's own leadership formation, she "understands the importance of an inclusive school community that has a common, shared vision and values collaboration, social justice, service and sustainability. As a leader, my goal is to support parents and teachers to provide an enriching, innovative, and authentic learning environment where students will become empowered, lifelong learners who will become engaged in improving their communities."

service learningIn addition to teaching, Alex has valuable management experience as a Center Manager and part of the US Operations team working for Embassy Summer, a summer English and cultural immersion program for international middle school and high school students that come to the US, particularly Los Angeles

She also possesses five years of international experience teaching English as a Second Language for the Faculty of International Studies at the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand, where she had the opportunity to help plan, develop, and teach a wide array of community based projects related to training for the hospitality and tourism industry as well as teacher professional development workshops for Thai teachers. Her focus became the importance of intercultural communication and teaching English in authentic, engaging way that gave students a way to express and share their own culture.

Alex shares that she would like to "improve the future of education, the teaching profession and the community in order to make all sustainable, innovative, creative and successful. I want to help families and communities grow stronger and happier, as well as to help individuals experience the joy of learning that will emanate into all other areas of their lives, for the rest of their lives." Alex wants to empower our youth by helping them realize, not only their own individual gifts and talents, but their shared responsibility to ensure a better future by serving and caring for the Earth and each other. service learning

Why Place Based Service-Learning?
As an educator, I have always been committed to developing myself as a teacher and doing innovative things with my students that made learning challenging, personalized, authentic and enjoyable. If I had to state one main goal as a science teacher, it would be to have students love and appreciate the subject and possibly see themselves being able to beinvolved with it as a future career, or at least be able to think methodically and apply problem solving to the real world through “learning by doing”. Reflecting on my journey as an educator, there are many factors that have finally brought me to this point of being drawn to the promise of an education that focuses on “Service Learning, Place and Sustainability”.

In my own approach as a teacher, I’ve always taken a student centered approach where my role is more of a facilitator and guide. I have always been drawn to teaching middle grades because I feel this is the best age to start allowing more independence, control, responsibility and personal choice and to develop personal interests as well as skills of civic engagement.

With the continued focus on STEM, my teaching has become more integrative and inter-disciplinary utilizing more collaborative group skills, teamwork, project management, research and communication skills.

alexI’ve always focused on project based learning with mentoring students in Los Angeles and the California State Science Fairs. With my recent participation with Future City competitions, I’ve seen the need for students to apply their skills to focus on current issues related to environmental justice and sustainability using the tools of the Engineering Design Process and project management. The students have been excited, engaged and empowered to learning in this way and that is what continues to motivate me in this direction. (photo at right—Alex and colleagues at Summer WEST Institute.)

So, again, I think the use of service learning, place and sustainability add another promising layer to my teaching as these are ways students can be even more engaged with real issues in their own communities and will make learning even more authentic.

I've been looking for ways for students be become part of improving the school community and developing environmental stewardship and leadership with the development of our school Green Team. Our student Green Team is currently in charge of daily waste sorting set up, disposal and composting. We hope to continue improving this project in the future and have the student develop and lead more events throughout the school. I am proud at how this gave students new opportunities to become involved with school in a meaningful way and become leaders in ways that being in the classroom could not offer.

I’m interested in doing more projects and developing practices that engage parents and community members more in school as well as engaging the school community with the outside local community.

I envision a well connected school community that has a common, shared vision that values a culture of collaboration, social justice, service and sustainability. A focus on the development of the whole child (body, mind and spirit) requires an education that will be balanced and personalized to support and foster individual gifts and talents, a healthy way of life, care for the environment and a life-long love of learning. Technology will be integrated effectively and responsibly as a tool to develop essential 21st century skills, such as effective communication, critical thinking and creative problem solving, and to continually improve teaching and learning through an authentic, challenging and engaging curriculum. Future challenges will be met with resourcefulness, innovation and strong community partnerships where all stakeholders will be empowered to become action oriented and civically engaged to transform their lives, school and community.

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