Donor Story

REWARDING COLLABORATION

Former UNM Educators Support Two Colleges Engaged in Multicultural Arts Integration

BY Hilary Mayall Jetty

Posted November 14, 2017

Albuquerque’s International District is home to large populations of native New Mexicans, settled immigrants and recently arrived international refugees. It is culturally wealthy, yet economically impoverished. In the midst of this kaleidoscope of diversity, two UNM colleges are collaborating at La Mesa Elementary School in a unique educational pilot program that delights David and Mary Colton.

During Literacy Week at La Mesa Elementary School in Albuquerque, children bring to life an Aboriginal creation tale from the book Sun Mother Wakes the World.
Photo: Katie Williams, UNM Communication and Marketing

David served as dean of the UNM College of Education (COE) from 1980-89. Mary is an educator and accomplished weaver, and following her husband’s tenure as dean, they both taught at the COE. Their passion for education, love of art and music, and deep concern for children in economically challenged circumstances led them to support TECLA, the Teacher Education Collaborative in Language Diversity and Arts Integration.

TECLA engages student teachers in Art Education at the UNM College of Fine Arts (CFA) and Elementary Education at the COE who are interested in bilingual education and TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages). Mentored by faculty from both colleges, these future educators blend artistic creativity and cultural sensitivity into mathematical thinking, scientific inquiry, social studies, literacy and other core subjects in La Mesa’s classrooms. Learning becomes a joy, as youngsters demonstrate their comprehension through art, writing, drama, music and special projects.

This was a perfect fit for the Coltons. “There are far too many children living in poverty in New Mexico,” David stated. “We decided to look for a program to invest in that involved these at-risk kids and the arts. TECLA is remarkable because the team understands that learning in school has to relate to kids’ cultural heritage.”

Although the English, Spanish and Navajo languages are taught at La Mesa, dialects from Africa and other continents are also represented in the student body. Teacher candidates are trained to appreciate their students as individuals with abilities that reflect knowledge they have gained through their community, heritage and daily realities.

Rebecca Sanchez, associate professor in Teacher Education and Educational Leadership and Policy, is a TECLA coordinator at the COE. She values the Colton’s active engagement with the program. “They are both educators, and it’s exciting to have truly meaningful conversations with them,” Sanchez explained. “Their generosity supports professional development for our students and the classroom teachers they work with. It also bolsters our research plans so we can collect data, as well as document and disseminate knowledge gained from this experience.”

The Coltons enjoy attending events at La Mesa. Mary was particularly impressed by “classroom museum” projects, where students delve into a specific topic from different academic perspectives. Students create visual aids, exhibits and performances to help them present what they’ve learned to other classes as well as visiting adults.

“One class studied chocolate,” Mary noted, “and each small group in that class became specialists in an aspect of the topic, like how or where the [cacao] plant was raised, and the various stages of chocolate production. They also wrote a poem in Spanish, and one young girl nearby recognized that we didn’t understand it. She spontaneously translated it into English for me, and that was a wonderful example of her own understanding of a cultural situation.”

“One of our hopes,” David said, “is that the ‘powers that be’ can be nudged past their preoccupation with test scores and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], because these kids are going to have to deal with a bigger world. We think if they can be engaged through the arts it will help them stay in school.”

Nancy Pauly, associate professor in Art Education and Art History at the CFA, is one of the founders of TECLA. She notes that the outcomes of arts integration correspond well with the Colton’s philanthropic goals. “We frame our project under the larger term of multiple literacies,” she said. “If children dance or dramatize something or make a visual image, they engage in a way that they can understand it differently. Arts-based learning is proven to improve reading proficiency and contribute to academic and career success, especially for children living in poverty, those with disabilities, and English language learners.”

The Colton’s admiration for teamwork and partnership in academic endeavors also extends to a CFA program in music. Mary created the Thelma Rawcliffe Collaborative Piano Endowment to honor her mother, who was a pianist. Scholarships benefit students in the Collaborative Piano Program under the direction of Associate Professor Pamela Pyle.

“We are grateful for the Colton’s visionary support through their gifts,” said CFA Dean Kymberly Pinder. “Their significant contributions to the art integration program at La Mesa Elementary reflect their deep desire to make a difference in our community through their conviction that the arts enrich the education of Albuquerque’s children.”

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