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Monday, September 14, 2020

DLE Master’s Alumna Selected to Education Policy Fellowship

Amber Riehman

A few months ago, Amber Riehman (’14, ’15, ’20) found herself listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “All, Here, Now” speech. King — speaking in 1966 at the height of the Civil Rights movement — warned against what he called “gradualism,” asserting: “We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now.” For Riehman, those words made an impact.

“'All, Here, Now' has been really sticking in my head as a mantra these last few months — and it's really been driving a lot of the work I've been doing at my site,” said the San Diego State University alumna who now teaches social science and is an English learner (EL) coordinator at El Cajon Valley High. “So often you’ll say, ‘Well, this is a small step in the right direction.’ Well, how many steps does it take to get there?” 

Riehman recently learned she’ll have a chance to contribute to the macro level change she’s long wished to see. In the wake of completing her master’s degree in Critical Literacy and Social Justice from SDSU’s Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education (DLE), she has been selected to the Teach Plus California Teaching Policy Fellowship for 2020-21. 

Teach Plus is a national organization that aims to empower teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity and student success. As part of the fellowship, Riehman will work on policy issues with the California Department of Education and receive a stipend to support her work, research and community impact. 

“Even going back to my undergrad at SDSU, I've always had this yearning to make change,” Riehman said. “It’s why I became a teacher; I thought if I have 100 kids per year, times however many years, that's some change right there. But I think this fellowship is exciting because it's taking what I've learned from DLE, from being a classroom teacher and from being an EL coordinator and bringing it to that next level — a level where change on a large scale is possible.” 

Riehman said she is excited for the chance to analyze systemic inequities within the educational system. She is particularly interested in tackling issues of access — where students are hindered by language barriers or because the content itself is not culturally relevant. 

Through her experience in the DLE master’s program, Riehman said she gained the opportunity to reflect on her own ideology and biases and to “really study critical pedagogy and apply that to address issues of inequity and access.” She credits her mentor, Dr. Cristina Alfaro, for encouraging her to pursue the fellowship when she wasn’t sure if she would even apply. 

“Her mentorship has given me the tools, but also the courage to pull up a seat at the table and say, 'I belong here too.'” Riehman said. “Now, I'm wondering how I can use my platform and my privilege to shake things up and disrupt systems. 

“It's got me thinking, 'What can I do? How can I learn and listen but also engage?'”