April 26, 2002

Kindergarten Teacher Makes a Difference By Embracing Diversity

Everyday that Tony Gomez walks to his kindergarten class at Garfield Elementary in East Oakland, he appreciates the opportunities and responsibilities afforded by the uniqueness of our state’s growing cultural diversity. Passing this understanding on to his young students is a challenge Gomez is more than willing to take.

Gomez is one of California’s exceptional teachers as he goes beyond the lesson plan to instill in youthful minds a deeper appreciation of the world and its inhabitants. After leaving San Francisco to work in Washington as a museum educator, Gomez returned home to make a greater impact on his community—he returned home to teach.

“I grew up having friends with last names like Romero, Chen and O’Neil,” remembers Gomez, a self-described Chicano-Italian. “I valued knowing kids of different cultural backgrounds. I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to be a positive presence in that kind of mix.”

Garfield Elementary is indeed a medley of diversity. One-third of the student population is Latino, one-third is African-American and another third is a mix of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mien, Arabic, and Filipino. In a school as diverse as this one, the Kindergarten Club, a collaboration of all the kinder classes, ensures that students develop friendships across the different cultural and language groups by engaging them in activities outside the core curriculum, such as music and the arts.

“In the neighborhood where I work there are a number of gangs, both Latino and Asian,” says Gomez, a Spanish bilingual teacher. “What we try to do with the Kindergarten Club is present an alternative at a young age. We need to make a concerted effort to allow students to create strong connections and friendships because, as wonderful as the diversity in California is, there is much racism. The club helps kids deconstruct those negative concepts.”

Gomez, who earned his credential and master’s degree through a two-year program at the University of California, Berkeley, knew that switching careers would be a big investment of time and money. At time, he wondered if it would be worth it. But as a museum educator who coordinated after-school workshops for kids at cultural and community centers, as well as at museums, he knew he felt a calling to truly help children develop their skills and passion for learning.

“One of the greatest things for me is seeing a child who couldn’t even write their name at the beginning of the year emerge as a young reader and writer. To me, that is absolutely thrilling,” exclaims Gomez.

California faces a shortage of qualified teachers largely driven by an ever-expanding student enrollment, mandated class size reduction and the growing attrition of today’s teacher work-force as a large proportion reach retirement age. During the next decade California will need to recruit 300,000 people to take on the challenging but rewarding job of teaching the state’s children.

The California Center for Teaching Careers (CalTeach) is a one-stop information, recruitment and referral service for individuals considering or pursuing a teaching career. Cal-Teach, administered by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, can be reached by phone at 1-888-CALTEACH (225-8322), or via the Internet at www.calteach.com. CalTeach also works closely with the California Teacher Recruitment Incentive Program (CalTRIP). Six centers are located in Sacramento, Tulare, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and San Diego. The teacher recruitment centers provide job placement assistance by partnering with local school districts to ensure that teachers are placed in classrooms through a seamless and efficient hiring process. These centers can be reached though the CalTeach helpline at 1-888-CALTEACH (225-8322).

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