Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald is being honored as a Champion of Change for her service to education.
It is an honor to be nominated to the White House Champions of Change program. This program will provide me with the opportunity to share ideas in order to improve educational programs and communities across the country.
I appreciate the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic diversity of our Montgomery County, Maryland community where the demographics have changed greatly in the last ten years. Born into a multilingual and multi-cultural family, I promote the richness that other cultures and ethnic populations share with the predominant community.
Our community reflects the needs of the new populations making Montgomery County their home. The school system is stretching the available dollars to meet the educational, housing, health and other needs of the total community; however, as is the challenge for all public school systems, more funding is needed to properly tackle the existing situations.
As a first generation Cuban-Spaniard-American, I was faced with the many challenges that our Hispanic students face today. I was raised by a divorced mother, who was a public school teacher, in a Spanish speaking household. I entered Kindergarten, as an English Language Learner, in a school that had no supports in place to help me learn the English and academic language needed to be successful in school. Fortunately, I had a wonderful Kindergarten teacher who took an interest in helping me and my family.
I moved to Montgomery County, Maryland in middle school in 1979. After graduating from a Montgomery County public high school, I attended the University of Maryland where I earned a B.S. in Consumer Economics. During this time, I assisted my mother in opening her own real estate firm and focused on educating first time home buyers. As I worked with many families, I recognized the need to educate the whole family not just the parents. Many of these families were Hispanic immigrants trying to achieve the American dream of home ownership. They were hardworking, English Language Learners and their children were struggling, just as I had. My desire to help these children led me to return to school to earn my Masters of Arts in Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Johns Hopkins University.
At first, I taught in schools that were very diverse and had large populations of ESOL students. Then in 2005, I accepted a position with the Montgomery County Public School system (MCPS) as an ESOL Teacher at Lois P. Rockwell Elementary School in upper Montgomery County, where the community was just beginning to diversify. In the six years since I have taught there, Rockwell Elementary and the surrounding community have seen tremendous growth in diversity with the ESOL population growing ten-fold and the Hispanic population more than quadrupling.
As our student population continues to diversify in our county, our schools need to respond to their changing needs in order to provide them with opportunities for success. Although, my school’s population has seen tremendous growth in its diversity, our Hispanic students and students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) continue to meet the required proficiency percentage needed to meet the Maryland School Assessment Overall Adequate Yearly Progress standards. The success of these Hispanic and LEP students is directly related to the positive climate and culture of our school. As a teacher and a member of the school’s leadership team, I am able to affect positive change in our school. We make it a priority to educate the whole child by providing opportunities for success in their academic and social-emotional learning. We use the nationally recognized Project Wisdom Character Education program and the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system to teach students how to make good choices and be rewarded for such choices. We build long lasting relationships with the students and their families by building a strong community where they feel safe and proud to belong.
In addition to my work at Rockwell, I am able to influence the success and advocacy of our county’s LEP students through my leadership on the Montgomery County Education Association ESOL Labor Management Collaborative Committee (MCEA/ESOL LMCC). This is a collaborative committee between the union, MCEA and the ESOL Division Administration of MCPS. As the Chair, I lead the committee to discuss and bring attention to the many issues that our ESOL teachers face that ultimately affect the education of our LEP students. I work closely with the leadership of MCEA and the administrators in MCPS’ ESOL Division to resolve these issues and advocate for the education of our LEP students. I also collaborate with and present to the larger MCEA/MCPS LMCC, which includes the top level administrators of MCPS, to address unresolved issues and monitor the positive progress of the committee.
Ultimately, by working with my ESOL students, their families, the community, the union, and the school system, I have the opportunity to influence the lives of these young children, our future leaders. By teaching them English language skills, exposing them to their new culture and encouraging them to be proud of their native culture, and emphasizing how they are great contributors to the daily life of our community, I am affecting a positive change in their lives and the lives of their families. Hispanic and ESOL students benefit from their success and advocacy by becoming productive members of their communities.
Together, we can bring changes and improvements to our communities. We can increase academic achievement, professional development, economic opportunities, stability and safety for Hispanic and ESOL students. Together, we can effectively bring positive changes for the benefit of the total community.
As a teacher and leader, I am dedicated to improve our community and the lives of Hispanic children through my daily work. I live in Montgomery County, Maryland with my husband, Sean and my daughters, Alexandra and Victoria. In addition to my work, I enjoy spending time with my family, traveling, and volunteering.
Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald is an ESOL teacher at Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland