GSE Program Prepares Students to Become Culturally Responsive Educators

The sunny, colonial city of Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico is the site of the Graduate School of Education (GSE) Classroom Organization in Yucatán Program. Since 2012, Rutgers students, staff and faculty have had the opportunity to spend part of their winter break in Mérida where they participate in many activities designed for exposure to and guided reflection upon the Mexican culture, history, and educational system.  Given the large number of students in U.S. classrooms from Latino backgrounds, this opportunity helps prepare GSE students become culturally responsive educators.

Through a collaboration with the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY), Rutgers students join peers at the UADY School of Education to share and compare information about how classrooms are organized in the United States and in Mexico.  Rutgers students visit classrooms at the elementary, middle and high school levels in both rural and urban settings and engage the Mexican students in storytelling activities.  During the nine-day program, the group also takes several excursions, including visits to a Mayan archeological site, a former sisal-producing hacienda, a town market, and several outdoor festivals.

Learning on such trips happens in unexpected ways. Sam Harber, who participated in the program upon two occasions, commented on what she learned on a visit to the little town of Sisbicchen, when “we got the opportunity to walk across their town with them [elementary and middle school students] from their school to their teacher’s home. Along the way, the students pointed out numerous indigenous plants and told us about the uses of their fruits and leaves and so forth. It was striking to me because I come from an environment where such knowledge is uncommon.”  Sam was impressed: “Through these experiences, I became more aware of the… knowledge all students have, even if it does not fit the mold of one’s cultural expectations.”

Kelly Gugger, another participant in the program, wrote about how she learned about the Mexican identity as being “a ‘blend’ of different cultures and ethnicities.”  Unlike in the United States, where this blend is sometimes ignored or marginalized, she noticed a sense of pride “that all of that history [from the indigenous influences, colonial period and contemporary immigration] created who Mexicans are today, and that they have not forgotten about their Mayan roots.”  Kelly, who doesn’t speak Spanish, also felt that the experience helped her understand what it must be like to live in a community in which one doesn’t speak the dominant language. In her words, it was a “life-changing trip.”

In the summer of 2014, Rutgers had the opportunity to host a student intern from the UADY, Ana Cecilia Castillo LoezaCeci worked at the Rutgers Highland Park High School Summer Program and had the opportunity to participate in professional development workshops, co-teach Spanish classes and observe Chinese language classes.  In her reflections, Ceci wrote, “I would say that this experience completely changed my mind (or opened my mind), because there are some things that I have never thought before…. One of my goals is becoming a teacher as good as the ones I met in New Jersey; organized, well-prepared, committed and innovative.” Ceci developed friendships with several GSE pre-service Spanish teachers, and they are keeping in touch via Facebook, and one of them is planning on spending the fall semester in Yucatán. Upon returning to Mexico, Ceci “would like to share the experience with other people from UADY for them to participate next year in this program. It is a good experience to grow as a person and as future teachers….” She says she will tell her peers, “we should take advantage of the opportunities we are offered… because they can change our lives.”  This fall the Dean of the School of Education, Julieta Guerrero, and one of the faculty members, Blanca Adåan Sobrado, will also visit the GSE.


The 2015 Classroom Organization in Yucatán Program will run from January 10th through the 18th. Participants in the program earn one graduate credit (which for most GSE students in certification programs will count toward their Classroom Organization requirement), and it is not necessary to speak Spanish to join.  All Rutgers and GSE students are welcome to apply.  If you are interested in participating in the 2015 Classroom Organization in Yucatan Program and would like more information, email Kathleen Myles at, and join us for an information session on September 16 from 4-4:30 in the Graduate School of Education, room 211. 




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