Tell us a little about yourself, Arlene.
I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, which is a border city, with my three siblings. My parents are from Mexico, and my dad came to the US during his high school years, and my mom came to the United States when she was 18. I have three adorable nieces who I love so much. I try my best for them. I try to be a good role model for them and encourage them to go to school and just work at getting a higher education. As their tia (aunt), I want the best for them. Being the second oldest, I was the first one to go to college and the first one out of my dad’s entire family to graduate from college. I’m currently working on my Master’s in teaching, and I teach Spanish, as well as intervention. So, this is just an amazing opportunity I’m blessed with.
I’ve been in the area for four years. I live in Madison now, but I used to live in Nashville, closer to Hermitage.
What makes this area special to you?
El Paso, where I grew up, is full of mountains and desert. For 24 years, I was there, surrounded by all that desert and heat. And when I first came to Nashville in 2012, I just saw how green and beautiful it was, and I was just amazed by it, by all the nature activities provided, that were free, as well. So, the nature is one of the main reasons I wanted to move out here. Then, after seeing that, I looked into the education system to see how it was. And I had come across that they’re big supporters of reading and really didn’t have many bilingual teachers. So, I was like, “Oh, they support reading, which is something I truly enjoy, and I encourage.” And so, I felt like I could make a bigger difference out here.
What is it that you do?
I work at Explore Community School, which is in East Nashville. I’m teaching Spanish to third graders through fifth graders. The school is growing, so the plan is to teach Spanish from third grade to eighth grade.
Can you tell us a little more about Explore?
Explore is a project-based learning school, which involves the community in many ways. That is one of my favorite parts. It provides thinking outside the box and most importantly, working as a team.
At Explore, we stand by five core values and these core values are represented every day. They are curiosity, compassion, community, courage, and craftsmanship. As I mentioned, these core values are encouraged and shown, and celebrated on a daily basis by students, staff members, and families. There are constant shout outs. And the kids will want to shout out like, “So-and-so is showing compassion and because of this.” Just celebrating one another is amazing. We even have parents saying their kids are showing those core values at home as well. That’s just something to grow with and take into their lives once they leave Explore.
How did you get into teaching?
I had the same teacher for the first, second, and third grades. She was the one who inspired me to become a teacher. So, in third grade, when we had to fill out a little activity of what you want to be when you grow up, I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher. And I never really changed that idea – it was a dream of mine. She had a huge impact in my life, was very supportive, and I wanted to do that as well. The same impact she had on me, I wanted to go and help others.
How has the pandemic changed your daily operations for work?
When all this started, it was just taking it day by day, trying to figure it all out. But since there wasn’t any school after spring break, we used that time to try new platforms.
It was like, “Okay, there’s Zoom. We can do that.” And you can meet with the kids, but we really weren’t teaching. It was just providing asynchronous work for them. And when we did meet, it was optional, because not everyone had the technology available. Just working with them and connecting with families overall was hard.
But since the new school year started, we’ve had more training about the protocols which was helpful. Especially extra training on virtual learning, because back in March, we had no idea. Over the summer, we had virtual training, and I continued teaching from home. We’re all virtual teaching, and as of now, I’m scheduled to do that until December. There are some teachers, like K through first, that are teaching in the classroom with their students, the parents that gave permission for their kids to go to the school building.
But I know for sure it affected the growth of students. In that short period of time from March until May, some students fell behind. We weren’t able to get all the accurate tests, and the same could be said for classes now. From conversations I’ve had with some of my kids, some prefer virtual learning, and some would rather be at school. That’s just their learning style. For some, it’s just easier to learn when they’re in the classroom. They have better focus. I know that’s been a challenge for them, as well.
What about your work makes you the proudest?
I feel like there are so many things about it, but I think just that building relationship is something I am super grateful and proud of. And I’ve been at Explore for three years; this is my third year. But just seeing our students grow, going from third-graders, now fifth-graders, and just the growth they’ve done. It’s really great.
What advice would you give to people right now?
I think just breathe, because there’s been so many difficult moments and a lot of anxiety all over the world. So just breathe, pray, and find the moment to be grateful for. That’s helped me a lot with just trying to think more positively. Focus on the good, rather than the bad.
What do you look forward to the most about life returning to normal again?
Being able to go out, as far as traveling. And being able to hug my kids! Being back in the school building and being able to touch others. Just hug the kids, because they always want to give hugs, and that’s something we can’t do right now. We had a fall festival recently. It was a fun event we had prior to fall break. And one of the kids saw me and said, “I really want to hug you.” And I was like, “Me too, but we can’t!”
Who do you think is most responsible for the person you are today?
I think first and foremost, God. He’s given me a second chance in life. And my mom. My mom, she’s a hard worker. She went back and got her GED, and she worked graveyard for a while and then became a single parent and still took care of four children and worked. And it was just amazing. My mom inspired me. So that’s what motivated me to stay focused on my education, go to college, find a career, and just work hard in what I do and what I want to do in life.
And I think as far as at work, I’d say my coach, Colleen Cummings. She’s been guiding me as a teacher, providing advice, giving me advice, giving me “glows and grows” and just being supportive and encouraging me.
Finally, if you could have one superhero power, what would it be?
Teleporting, so I can move from one place and then the next, so quick. I would save myself so much money visiting with family and traveling all over the world.
We already consider you a superhero, Arlene. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Stay safe and stay healthy.
For her time and cooperation, we’re proud to award Arlene with the Hardin’s Heroes Certificate and $500 to the charity of her choice, No Potential Left Behind.