Education Major Went from English Language Learner to Soon-To-Be Teacher

Astrid Vega’s career aspirations are inspired by her life experiences
Astid Vega Headshot

Astrid Vega '22

Hometown: Kansas City, Kansas

High School: J.C. Harmon High School

Degree program: Education

Astrid Vega was five years old when she and her family moved from Mexico to the United States. As the product of two Spanish-speaking parents and a native Spanish speaker herself, starting school was a challenge due to the language barrier she had to overcome.

Thankfully, she had teachers who were willing to work with her as she learned to speak English. Fast forward several years later, the sophomore pre-elementary education student has the opportunity to pay it forward while working with English Language Learners (ELL) at Northeast Middle School as part of an Introduction to Language Acquisition and Diversity course (English 250) offered through the UMKC School of Education.

“I get the freedom to chart my own path and define my career.” – Astrid Vega

“I wanted to become a teacher because I want to work with kids, and I like to give back,” Vega said. “My teachers always pushed me to do my best and I want to impact kids and help them succeed.”

Astrid laughs and interacts with students during class activity

As a young mom, Vega’s college experience is nontraditional. She came to UMKC as a freshman interested in studying nursing but had to take time off to raise her son. After re-enrolling in school — this time at Metropolitan Community College — she changed her major to education.

“My parents didn’t go to college, but they always stressed the importance of going and finishing. And now I tell my younger sisters and my son ‘I made it, so you have to make it. No ifs, ands or buts.’”

Upon receiving her associate’s degree in education, Vega is back at UMKC working to complete her bachelor’s degree. Inspired by her own life experience and the School of Education's English 250 course, she’s considering becoming a teacher for English Language Learners.

“It’s amazing to see the students grow and, working a lot with Spanish-speaking kids, I like being an inspiration to help them see what they can become.”

Astrid assists two female Hispanic students with worksheet activity

Northeast Middle School is Kansas City Public School's district hub for English Language Learners. Children of various international backgrounds are bussed from all over the Kansas City metro to Northeast Middle for ELL classes. In class, children are grouped by comprehension level and UMKC students spend one day a week for 13 weeks working with them on reading and comprehension activities.

“It’s the small moments like seeing two children with different backgrounds and native languages speaking with one another in English that give me the most joy.”
– Quinlinn O’Donnell, ELL teacher, Northeast Middle School

The Spanish-speaking students in Vega’s group were so excited that she speaks their language and can help them, although Vega says she tries to balance between Spanish and English so that they can practice communicating in both languages.

“I come up with different lesson plans and fun activities beyond what’s expected because I want them to learn,” Vega said. “I didn’t have Hispanic teachers growing up but my teachers were supportive and helped me learn more than I thought I could. The teachers at Northeast do an amazing job with the kids in the ELL class.”

female Hispanic student holds up word card reading "thanks" during ELL group activity

The valuable lesson of diversity and inclusion reveals itself throughout the classroom as students are encouraged to help one another find creative ways to figure out how specific words in their respective languages translate to English.

“I wanted to become a teacher because I want to work with kids and I like to give back. My teachers always pushed me to do my best and I want to impact kids and help them succeed” - Astrid Vega

“It’s tough sometimes because these kids are trying to adjust to learning a new language on top of adjusting to a new home life as several of them are new Americans, but it’s the small moments like seeing two children with different backgrounds and native languages speaking with one another in English that give me the most joy,” said Quinlinn O’Donnell, Northeast Middle ELL teacher. “Or when a word they’ve been struggling with finally clicks and I’m like ‘Yes! You get it!’”

ELL students, some of which are refugees, are from countries all over the world ranging from Mexico to Myanmar to Somalia.

Vega said it's experiences like working with ELL students at Northeast that she enjoys most about her education at UMKC.

“I get the freedom to chart my own path and define my career,” Vega said. “I think teaching ELL will open up a lot of opportunities for me. I wish I can continue working with the students and seeing how far they go.”

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