Diversity and intercultural communication are more than abstract concepts to David Espinoza, instructor in the bilingual mode of MATC's early childhood education program. Espinoza, who teaches courses simultaneously in Spanish and English, believes that encouraging intercultural understanding is a "profoundly important way of touching humanity."
The early childhood education program offers both associate degree and technical diploma options. Many associate degree students continue their studies at four-year colleges or universities to earn bachelor's degrees in early childhood education.
As a bilingual educator, Espinoza works to foster understanding across cultures through his teaching and community outreach work. Students work side by side, learning the tenets of caring for and teaching children. Along the way, they also learn a lot about each other.
"The bilingual mode of the program is designed to train people to care for children who will grow up speaking two languages," he explained. "Child care workers also need to communicate with parents who may or may not speak English." The focus of each course is on the subject matter – not on learning languages. But picking up a bit of another language and discovering each other's cultures comes naturally in this setting, Espinoza said.
Bilingual Format Attracts English- and Spanish-Speaking Students
Designed for Spanish-speaking students, bilingual mode courses also attract many students whose primary language is English. "They like to learn about diversity and about other cultures," he said. "When we used to have daylong Saturday classes at the West Allis Campus, students chose to eat lunch together, even if they couldn't understand everything the others were saying.
"Differences can be a barrier or something that can bring you together," Espinoza said. "We may be fearful of people from other cultures because we don't understand them. But once we get to know each other, we see that other people have similar values and think the same way we do. We were just not able communicate before, so we did not understand."
MATC is the only college or university in the state that offers the entire associate degree early childhood education program in a Spanish and English bilingual format, including general studies courses.
"Differences can be a barrier or something that can bring you together. We are fearful of people from other cultures because we don't understand them. But once we get to know each other, we see that other people have similar values and think the same way we do. We were just not able communicate before, so we did not understand."
-David Espinoza, MATC bilingual early childhood education instructor
MATC Committed to Multiculturalism
MATC is committed to multiculturalism, according to Dr. Wilma Bonaparte, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which houses the early childhood education program. Bonaparte began the bilingual early childhood education program in 2002. Recently, MATC also hired a full-time instructor who can provide early childhood education in a trilingual format – English, Hmong and Laotian. Bonaparte hopes that eventually all the required general studies classes will be available in that mode.
Bonaparte recruited Espinoza to teach at MATC about 10 years ago. He soon became a full-time instructor. He holds a bachelor's degree in community education and a master's degree in curriculum, both from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is finishing a doctorate in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University.
Before joining MATC, Espinoza served 24 years as the CEO of La Causa, Inc., one of Milwaukee's largest bilingual, multicultural agencies. La Causa focuses on education, child abuse prevention and social services. It includes La Causa Charter School, an Early Childhood and Childcare Center, a Family Resource Center and a 24-hour Crisis Nursery and Respite Center to ensure child care in emergencies.
"It was a small day care center when I was hired," he said. "It was one classroom and a closet. While I was director, it grew to include three child care buildings and an elementary school for kindergarteners through eighth grade. We added the 24-hour-a-day crisis center in 1990. More than 400 people work at La Causa now. It was a big job. I loved every single moment of my time working there."
Espinoza joins youngsters at the MATC Child Care Center in a drumming session.
Teaching a 'Continuation' of His Work at La Causa
Espinoza left La Causa to join MATC because he longed to serve in a "hands-on" capacity rather than being an administrator. "I love working in the bilingual education program at MATC," he said. "I see it as a kind of continuation of the work I started at La Causa."
He remains deeply involved in the local Hispanic community, facilitating placements for his students in Hispanic organizations. He also encourages local child care center operators to send their employees to MATC to obtain credentials. Many of those employees continue on to earn their early childhood education associate degrees or diplomas at MATC.
Working through the Mexican social service agency Desarrollo Integral de La Familia (DIF), Espinoza and his students also collect medical equipment to help children and families in Tonalá, Jalisco in Mexico. Espinoza's dream is to develop an exchange program with Tonalá, allowing students from MATC's early education program to study the Mexican child care model first-hand while bringing artisans from Tonalá to visit Milwaukee. It's all part of his mission to encourage understanding between people of different cultures.
For more information on MATC's early childhood education program, visit:
associate degree: http://www.matc.edu/las/degrees/early-childhood-education.cfm
technical diploma: http://www.matc.edu/las/diplomas/early-childhood-education.cfm
Espinoza congratulates a
student upon her graduation in 2012.
Espinoza reviews projects with students
in a bilingual early childhood education class.