“It’s actually a big part of the pitch.” added Saldaña, Associate Professor of MAS in UTSA’s Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (REGSS), which is located in UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development. (COEHD).
This year’s event will be partially funded by Humanities Texas, which provided a grant to the academy. The Austin-based nonprofit, which is the state branch of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is dedicated to advancing education through programs that improve the quality of classroom instruction.
This year marks the third year of the academy’s virtual format, which began out of necessity due to COVID-19 restrictions. The format expanded access to educators outside of the immediate San Antonio area, resulting in an exponential increase in the number of participants.
“It went from less than 20 people to 60 people, and last year we had 80,” said Gloria Gonzales, lecturer and co-director of the MAS Teachers’ Academy. “This year we hope to break that eighty mark.”
The virtual format has its challenges.
“The downside is the disconnect,” Gonzáles said. “Participants can’t make those personal connections. In group work, breakout rooms are not as personal, and even teaching virtually you miss that personal connection, the human touch. »
Academy directors, however, continue to seek new ways to overcome this isolation.
“One of our goals is to help cultivate that community among teachers,” Gonzáles said. “We have to find ways to build that community in the virtual world, and I think we’ve been pretty good at doing that.”
To that end, this year’s attendees will have more time to interact with each other after the presentations, giving them the opportunity to discuss the material and work together to decide how to implement it in their classrooms. class.
This year’s theme also evokes the importance of community and continuity. By incorporating Mesoamerican history, the directors of the academy hope to strengthen the links between past and present.
“When we think of peoples like the Maya, we always think of them in the past, but they’re actually still here,” Gonzáles said. “It’s not ancient history or dead history, it’s living history.”
For Saldaña, these connections go beyond history and strike at the heart of community and identity.
“We talk about indigenous people as if they only existed in the past, as if our ancestors were indigenous but we are not,” she added.
By teaching this history through the lens of Mexican American Studies, she hopes to help students and teachers maintain a sense of continuity with their indigenous roots and develop a positive ethnic and cultural identity. This goal is another reason the academy is open to all K-12 teachers, regardless of subject.
“It doesn’t matter what subject or grade level you teach,” Saldaña said. “If you work with our community, you will become more informed and grounded in developing, transforming and amplifying your curriculum and perhaps even rethinking or reframing your own pedagogy.”
In addition to hosting guest speakers from COEHD, the academy will also host faculty from other institutions, including the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, University of California Davis, and the University of Arizona.
Academy principals strive to help teachers feel included and supported the other 51 weeks of the year as well. One such strategy is a Facebook group called MAS Apoyo – a pun meaning “more support” – which serves as an online platform for teachers to connect and share resources.
“I think it’s a unique space, and I think one of the only spaces where MAS teachers can connect with each other across districts, across cities, across regions,” said Saldana. “Community is central to the field of Mexican American Studies and our pedagogy, so it makes sense that we want to cultivate that at the Academy.”
Saldaña and Gonzáles are also planning ways to improve next year’s event. One idea is to extend the Academy from three hours a day to five. This could give participants more time to cover material or participate in additional workshops, which translates into more support and preparation for teachers in the classroom.
“I think the more prepared they are, the more they will come away feeling like they can do it,” Gonzáles said.