“In my experience as a learner, I did not live in a place of equitable learning, but I did get to visit,” shared CSTA Equity Fellow Lauren Berrios. “I remember the cold difference between the two environments and the impact both had on my self-efficacy.”
“In my experience as a learner, I did not live in a place of equitable learning, but I did get to visit,” shared CSTA Equity Fellow Lauren Berrios. “I remember the cold difference between the two environments and the impact both had on my self-efficacy. I came into teaching to improve the learning environment for my students. This has meant rewriting the curriculum I was given to be more engaging for my students by drawing upon their feedback. It has meant creating flexibility in the way I facilitate learning and the way students demonstrate knowledge. It will forever mean revisiting and reflecting upon my strategies.”
Berrios is a visual-spatial enrichment teacher for 1st through 5th-grade students in the White Plains City School District in New York. She spends part of her teaching day in a selective enrichment program.
“Students come in with a preconceived notion that their worth and ability to stay in the program depends upon knowing the right answer,” said Berrios. “I start the year by telling them, ‘you have a home in this space; you all belong, even when you make mistakes because you will make mistakes. I will too, and we will fix them together.’ Then, I live by words.”
For Berrios, equity is providing a variety of access points and supports to learning, so everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Equitable teaching is student-centered rather than teacher-centered, supportive rather than punitive.
“It is the mantra that echoes, ‘There is no normal!’ Teachers do not teach to one type of student with a few exceptions; we teach to a varied mass of unique individuals with different talents, strengths, and required supports.”
According to Berrios, equitable teaching focuses on student growth rather than their products. To create such an environment, teachers must consider the engagement of lessons, provide a variety of entry points to materials, encourage students to demonstrate learning in various modalities, and evaluate learning with flexibility. In addition, teachers must peruse the content of their lessons to identify and build scaffolds for any material that may cause confusion. Misunderstandings are interpreted as a chance for teacher intervention and reflection rather than a student deficit.
Berrios supports a wide variety of students. Her district has a high percentage of Latinx students not represented in the selective enrichment programs. “I advocated for changes to some of the selection processes, and our numbers are more representative,” said Berrios. “Additionally, I joined my district’s equity committee to further illuminate this issue and work for change.”
She also supports the Emerging Multilingual Learner population. “I have made changes to my curriculum to highlight best practices for EMLs, such as pre-teaching vocabulary with multiple meanings and visuals, role-playing, speaking slowly, translators, celebrating L1 in projects, and allowing L1 language use for clarification,” said Berrios. “I am now developing a website in Glitch for my Computer Science Education Capstone called, “CSL && EML: Strategies for Empowerment” to make it easier for CS educators to find and use best practices that work for both!”
Berrios also serves as a mentor instructor for the Girls4Tech program at her middle school. “The program introduces girls to the power and fun of computer science,” shared Berrios. “I use my position in the elementary schools to advertise the program. Every year we have over 30 girls apply for the club, and we find a way to accept all applicants. My role in the program is to infuse best practices in CS into this after-school club to ensure the girls have a positive experience. I set up pair programming, offer a variety of project options (not just games), normalize bugs, and provide a role model of a fun, caring, and knowledgeable lover of CS.”
Additionally, Berrios encourages administrators to admit neurodivergent students who qualify for her program by describing the support they will receive and allowing for flexibility in her schedule. “Last year, I saw a student in the mornings before school when my class conflicted with one of his services several times a week,” shared Berrios. “I am flexible with these students to support their interests, and I communicate regularly with their classroom teacher for best practices and updates. Even though not stated in my job description, I push into the regular classes for my students who need extra help with implementing organizational strategies so they can find success in their regular classroom.”
Outside of the classroom, Berrios has been a speaker for local Girl Scout troops to talk about her journey to CS from the world of art. “It is important for girls to know that just because someone else doesn’t say you belong somewhere doesn’t mean that you don’t,” said Berrios. “Many of the girls have also been my students in whole group or small group enrichment classes and are surprised to hear some of the barriers I experienced. Sometimes you see the end product, and you think it came naturally or easily. You can’t see all the failures along the way when looking at someone who has succeeded, but success is built upon a pile of failures of someone who just would not give up. Girls are often taught to strive towards perfection, so it is important they know the process and value of bugs along the way.”
Berrios was also awarded opportunities through partnerships with the Jacob Burns Film Center and Upperline Code to award scholarships to deserving students. She selects students who show a passion for the subject that extends beyond the classroom. “I smiled with the knowledge that my most notable students for each award came from underrepresented populations. “
Berrios sees this fellowship as another space for growth acquired through the wealth of knowledge of her peers, a space to turn ideas into actions that she can share with the CS education world.
Learn more about the CSTA Equity Fellowship and this year’s cohort here.