20th BEEMS Conference Participants Called Change Agents

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

The vision for the first BEEMS conference at The University of Texas at El Paso in 1993 was to provide bilingual education teachers from around the region access to the latest research and technology in a growing field.

The goal has not changed but the scope has as organizers of the 20th Bilingual Educators Emphasizing Multicultural Settings bring in presenters who will share their exemplary practices with educators who will use that knowledge to improve their skills and help English Language Learners (ELL) throughout the country from coast to coast and border to border.Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Education, wrote the original U.S. Department of Education grant to create the BEEMS conference 20 years ago. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceJosefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Education, wrote the original U.S. Department of Education grant to create the BEEMS conference 20 years ago. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The 2013 BEEMS conference, “Faces of Success,” is scheduled Feb. 1-2 at UTEP and will include opening day visits to nearby elementary schools that excel at bilingual education. The keynote speakers are Jana Echevarria, Ph.D., professor emerita of education at California State University Long Beach, on Feb. 1, and Alfie Kohn, a Boston-based author and critic of today’s test-centered education system, on Feb. 2.

“The sharing of ideas from people on the inside and the outside creates a great combination,” said Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Education and writer of the original U.S. Department of Education grant to create the BEEMS conference. “The people who attend – teachers, principals, administrators and parents of these ELL students – are not content with the status quo. They see their jobs as change agents.”

The need for bilingual education teachers continues to grow nationally as the Hispanic population migrates into America’s heartland. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2010 that the country had a Hispanic population of 50.5 million and that more than 35 million of them spoke Spanish at home.

Tinajero said the University’s education graduate students organized the initial conference for their peers. Through the years, the conference’s reputation has generated interest around the state and the country. Before the economic downturn a few years ago, BEEMS would welcome about 1,200 educators, some from as far away as New York. Organizers expect about 600 to attend this year.

Today’s educators are interested in dual language programs where half the students are native English speakers and half are ELLs. Instruction is split between English and Spanish, and how technology can be used to help ELL students especially in teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but Tinajero said the concept starts with simple communication.

Her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was young. Despite a keen intellect and being brought up in an educated family, she entered an El Paso elementary school not knowing how to communicate in English. As speaking Spanish was discouraged, the system limited her ability to participate, she said.

She adapted and eventually graduated from Father Yermo High School as class valedictorian before embarking on a successful academic career that includes being a recognized international expert in bilingual education.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the professional development of teachers, administrators and even the parents,” she said. “Everyone needs to understand that being bilingual is an asset.”

Among the original “BEEMers” who plan to attend is Homero Silva, principal at Eastwood Knolls International School on El Paso’s East Side. He earned his bachelor’s in education from UTEP in 1989. His work with the first BEEMS cohort helped him earn his master’s seven years later.

Silva has attended or presented at 15 of the conferences and his participation has given him a perspective as a teacher, trainer and administrator on how support for bilingual education programs has evolved and the positive impact it has had on students in class and in the community.

“Our team members attend different sessions and then we regroup at lunch to discuss what we’ve learned,” the El Paso native said. “(BEEMS) has always been such a positive experience.”

One of the presenters will be Delia Yunnuen McLaughlin, a math and science teacher from the Dual Immersion Academy at Bookcliff Middle School in Grand Junction, Colo. She earned her bachelor’s in business administration (’08) and master’s in bilingual education (’11) from UTEP.

McLaughlin, a first-generation college student who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, will be part of a team that will share its research into the benefits of continuing dual language programs through secondary education.

“Most dual language programs stop at the elementary school level. We found linguistic and cognitive benefits for those who continue with the program through middle school because it takes five to seven years to acquire a second language. We hope to expand the program to high school and encourage others to do the same,” she said during a telephone interview from Colorado.

Gilberto D. Soto, Ph.D., professor of bilingual music education at Texas A&M International in Laredo, Texas, has been a frequent presenter at the conference. He considers it a great resource to those who are interested in the latest teaching strategies and methodologies. He stressed the academic need for today’s students to be bilingual to compete against tomorrow’s professionals from other countries who often speak two to three languages.

“The BEEMS conference takes care of those issues,” he said via telephone from Laredo.

The conference has spurred other successful University projects through the years that were aimed at enhancing academic literacy, said Sylvia Luna, the BEEMS coordinator.

Among the spinoffs are the Cultivating Bilingual Teachers and Leaders, the Bilingual Education with a Concentration in Math and Science, and the Bilingual Education Enhancement and Mentoring program. Past participants from these and other projects and programs will be recognized during the conference’s opening session as part of the 20th anniversary celebration, Luna said.

For more BEEMS information, visit academics.utep.edu/beems.