UTRGV Professors Recognized for their work in Bilingual Education

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‘The future of education in the Rio Grande Valley is bilingual, bicultural and biliterate’

Texas Border Business

By Amanda L. Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Two UTRGV philosophy professors who founded an organization dedicated to improvements in bilingual education have been given a special award for their work.

The Rio Grande Valley-Texas Association for Bilingual Education (RGV-TABE) has recognized Dr. Alex Stehn, UTRGV associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and associate director for Center of Bilingual Studies, and Dr. Mariana Alessandri, associate professor of philosophy, as 2019 Distinguished Community Advocate Honorees.

The award is given to individuals whose work and dedication have made positive changes in the field of bilingual education.

Stehn and Alessandri, who are married and have two sons, founded Rio Grande Valley Parents United for Excellent Dual Education (RGV PUEDE) in 2016 as a way to organize parents to support, improve and extend dual language programs in Rio Grande Valley school districts.

RGV PUEDE believes schools should not only teach students to speak both English and Spanish, but also emphasize the importance of reading and writing academically in both languages. 

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“I was excited, and the honor made me feel this big sense of responsibility. We’re a really new organization that grew from my wife and me,” Stehn said. “I feel like it has a lot of promise, and people respond very positively when we tell them about it.”

Alessandri said they are happy RGV PUEDE is catching on.

“People are paying attention to the work we’re doing, and it is working. This award was very affirming,” she said. “It got a lot of people excited to join us and to help do the work we’ve been doing. Now, there will be a lot of people invested.”

She said community engagement is one of the university’s core priorities, so it is important that they get out the word. 

“I want to take it to the community to get parents involved, and in some cases, to convince parents why dual language is a good idea,” Alessandri said.

Part of UTRGV’s strategic plan to work to become a biliterate, bicultural and bilingual university, with UTRGV B3 Institute’s mission paving the way. 

“I think it really marks us out as unique in the country, because if we’re a bilingual university, we’re going to be graduating all of these students who are really capable,” Alessandri said. “We would be serving students by appealing to what’s regional, and what’s regional is Spanish and English.”

RGV PUEDE already has chapters dotted throughout the Valley. The largest chapter currently is with the McAllen Independent School District, and they continue to work to implement more PUEDE chapters into other cities.

“The way forward is to create these chapters, and to have people who are parent leaders of these chapters,” Stehn said. “And, to establish a structure where the leaders from the PUEDE chapters meet, say, twice a year, to look again at the whole RGV.”

RGV PUEDE will be part of the third annual Dual Language Parent Conference hosted by UTRGV Center for Bilingual Studies, called “Strengthening Parent-School Partnerships for Dual Language Education.” It is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 29, in the Ballroom on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus.

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