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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

DLE COIL Program Connects Future Teachers in the U.S. and Mexico

Photo illustration of virtual learners
Photo illustration by Manny Uribe

At a time when COVID-19 restrictions have ground non-essential border traffic to a halt, San Diego State University is using an innovative virtual approach to continue offering its bilingual teacher credential candidates an immersive global experience. 

For the past decade, SDSU’s Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education (DLE) has operated a trans-border study abroad course that puts future bilingual educators into classrooms in the Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Tecate. A requirement for all DLE candidates, the program offers a deep dive into Mexico’s education system and the realities facing its migrant communities. 

“As an educator working in the border region, these [realities] are very important for our teacher candidates to understand,” said Dr. Sarah Maheronnaghsh, lecturer and global experience coordinator in DLE. “A lot of your students are coming from that situation. So what do you do with that? It's to really soften their hearts and open their eyes.

“There have been so many positive outcomes from it that we didn't want to lose that connection with the border, even though we're all at home. They're still out there and so are we.”

To replicate the experience amid the pandemic, DLE has turned to Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) — a type of program in which faculty in different countries work together to develop a shared virtual learning experience that fosters collaboration between their students. Working with teacher education faculty at Escuela Normal Fronteriza Tijuana and Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez Oaxaca (UABJO), Maheronnaghsh scrambled to help launch the course in January — the first such COIL program any of them had ever attempted.

“We were essentially building the plane while we were flying it,” she said, laughing.

Now fully assembled, the plane is soaring.

About 150 future teachers — 90 from SDSU and the remainder from Tijuana and the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca — are going through a series of online learning modules together. The class is split up into 10 cohorts, with students from all three institutions represented in each, as they study and discuss topics such as immigration, privilege and positionality. Each cohort is tasked with developing a project related to these topics to implement in a community or classroom setting.

Jose Aguirre
, a DLE credential student, said the conversations have been meaningful and he has been soaking up new perspectives “like a sponge.” He adds that he has been particularly interested to hear perspectives on migration from his Mexican counterparts.

“Here, we've been talking about migration and the caravans that have been coming through Mexico,” he said. “We only see or hear so much of it, whereas students that are sharing perspectives from Tijuana and Oaxaca are living those situations. It's interesting to hear what actions they are taking to help solve these situations in their own communities.”

Tomas Fernando Espinoza Nieves
— now a student at Escuela Normal Fronteriza Tijuana — was himself an undocumented migrant as a young child, living in Oxnard, Calif., before returning to Mexico with his family at the age of 5. Now preparing to teach the children of migrants who stream into Tijuana by the thousands, he said the COIL collaboration has been an important exchange of knowledge.

“It's a way to build bridges between our cities, between our schools to work as a team,” Espinoza Nieves said. “Being in this program has made me realize that I'm falling in love with my career. It has been so far one of the most wonderful experiences in my first semester.”