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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

The Teaching of English in Puerto Rico: A Vision
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright

Focusing on the needs of Puerto Rican students is accepting the fact that the most critical challenge that the public school system confronts today are the failed policies that have placed Puerto Rican children at the bottom of the educational loopholes. With more than 80% of schools in the so-called “Plan de Mejoramiento Escolar”, the Puerto Rican public school system is literally falling apart. The foundation of an improvement to the educational infrastructure has been laid out (21st Century Schools), but the academic development of students in Puerto Rico is underdeveloped as demonstrated in the results year after year in the statewide achievement exams (“Pruebas Puertorriqueñas de Aprovechamiento Escolar”) since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Accepting that reality is the first step towards understanding that changes must be made immediately.

There are so many challenges in the Puerto Rican public school system. The teaching of English has been a dilemma since the American encounter in 1898. From early twentieth century American teachers who tried desperately to get Puerto Rican students not only to learn English but to assimilate the American culture to English immersion programs such as the one the Department of Education is developing in 2012 in at least 30 elementary schools where all classes from kindergarten to second grade are taught in English except Spanish, Physical Education, Health, Arts and Social Studies (BEC XXI), the Government of Puerto Rico has been back and forth with its English language policies and has not stated a clear and present vision on the teaching of English in Puerto Rico.

The appropriate and fused integration of cultural competencies in classrooms have the ability to make the connection to the teaching, appreciation and literary analysis of the American and British classics. Because reading is the most fundamental subject, academic achievement in all core subjects will ultimately depend on the student’s reading comprehension development and concept development. Cultural competencies provide the link that not only makes sense but also deliver the needed context and helps students to make a personal connection first before making the more formal drive to the academic literary highway later.

Although the research and data in the area of culturally relevant literature is scarce, studies available strongly support an increment in reading engagement. A pilot program (“Integrating Culturally Relevant Literature (CRL) in the English Classroom”, Aug.-May 2011-2012, Fajardo and Canovanas School Districts) demonstrated that CRL provided the academic springboard to transition students to further literary experiences and elevated academic achievement. There was a formal presentation to the English Academic Facilitators and the English Program Director on April 12, 2012 at UPR, Rio Piedras, and the results were depicted in charts and statistics which compared and contrasted the pre and post exams of students from 4th-6th grade, 7th-9th grade and 10-12th grade. The affirmative results of the Pilot demonstrated without reasonable doubt that the integration of CRL in the English classroom enhanced interest in reading. While the scientifically validated results were overwhelmingly positive, the English Program Director that represented the Department of Education in that presentation did not take further action with such valuable academic program.

The reading and discussion of culturally relevant issues exposes students to issues such as language, education, family, values, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-determination, conflicts in identity, varied approaches to race and the preservation of culture and art which provoke students to make their own reactions and responses to literature. In the Puerto Rican public school system, English as second language students feel a lack of personal involvement. Most of the readings in their textbooks are irrelevant to their experiences, and transforming the stories with pre-reading exercises, stories and other culturally relevant literary bridges enhances interest in reading and fosters academic achievement.

There are no substitutes for creating an audience; it is an essential element in the reading process. CRL has that personal effect and provides a swift transition in the second language acquisition process. After twenty-five years of experience in the classroom, I have learned to build bridges and provide links to academic success. CRL is filled with everyday common events, young characters, settings and situations which cross the bridge between reading and writing and connects students to ideas and themes and gets them cognitively prepared for the reading process.

The Department of Education needs to prepare a concrete and specific vision for the teaching of English where the needs of children are accounted for. Focusing on the needs of Puerto Rican students is understanding that the teaching of English cannot continue to fluctuate its policies every four or eight years. The Department of Education needs to conceptualize a concrete vision of the teaching of English and include the use and integration of culturally relevant literature as a bridge and jump-off point to develop English language skills. The short-term results have already been highlighted in the Pilot’s preliminary results, but the long-term results may include improved results in the PPAA exams and higher scores on the English section of the College Board Entrance Exam.