Video: Student supporting young minds as teacher and homegrown role model through UHCL partnership

December 7, 2018 | George Mattingly II

Student supporting young minds as teacher and homegrown role model through UHCL partnership

Nancy Vega is preparing for final exams and finishing up her semester of part-time field observation at Harlem Elementary in Goose Creek Independent School District in Baytown. Reflecting on her time with students, Vega says her passion for working with children has grown stronger. For her, the district is more than a place to work. It’s where she discovered her passion for learning as a young student.
As part of University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Success Through Education Programs (STEP), Vega returned to her childhood school district, where she is supporting young students as a teacher and a homegrown role model.

“Having that connection to the district makes teaching really special for me and drives me to make the kids’ lives better, just like my teachers did for me,” she said.

STEP is a collaborative effort between UHCL, five area school districts, and five community colleges designed to create internship and field opportunities for students as they explore future careers in education. Students also take advantage of personalized advising, tutoring and mentorship from UHCL faculty and leadership opportunities. This fall, Vega worked with fifth graders once a week as part of the Pre-Service Internship I course in fulfillment of her bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies with a bilingual supplemental certification.

Because of her involvement with STEP, she was placed in the same district where she attended school. Aside from teaching math and reading, Vega said that being able to share her life experiences as a student with a similar background helps fill a gap in their education. Nearly 60 percent of the school’s students are at risk for dropping out of school based on state criteria, while 84 percent are considered economically disadvantaged, according to the Texas Education Agency. As a bilingual first-generation college student, Vega knows firsthand some of the issues her students face.

Nancy Vega Video“These kids are getting ready to go to middle school, but a lot of their parents didn’t go to school here and are unfamiliar with the school system, so they can’t ask their parents for guidance on what classes to take and what the schools are like,” she said. “They know I grew up here, so they ask a lot of questions about my path through school and are excited to hear about it. The opportunity to share with them makes it easier for us to connect.”

Vega said language has been a common thread that connects her to students’ experiences on a cultural level.

“My parents spoke Spanish at home when I was growing up, and they always taught me to love my culture and my language, which is part of the reason why I am pursuing my bilingual certification,” she said. “A lot of my students don’t know it’s okay to speak more than one language. Some of them are afraid to, and I want to teach them to love their culture and where they come from.”

Outside of the classroom, Vega said STEP is helping her flourish as a leader working under the guidance of Professor of Reading and Language Arts Lillian McEnery.

“It was a great experience for me, as a student, to participate in organizing a leadership institute,” Vega said. “We brought in speakers to talk to students about leadership and how to use it the classroom. I learned new skills that I can take with me after I graduate.”

Vega will begin student teaching full-time in the spring with plans to graduate in May 2019. After graduation, Vega said she wants to pursue her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at UHCL and eventually teach at the community college level. After her experience at UHCL, she said it’s the best place for her education.

“When I came to Open House, I fell in love. The wildlife, class size and the community feeling all drew me in,” she said. “Working with the STEP program, the professors have high expectations for us that definitely have pushed me to be a better student and a better teacher .”

To learn more about the STEP partnership, visit www.uhcl.edu/education/centers-initiatives/step/.

Learn more about Nancy Vega in a full video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-Y_mUFRXSo