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Opportunities in action

Brenda Contreras is kneeling next to a student in the elementary school classroom where she teaches as part of Oregon State's Master of Arts in Teaching program. The child wears a blue denim jacket and has long, dark and curly hair. Both are looking at a learning tablet that the student is holding.

As part of the Master of Arts in Teaching program in clinically based elementary, Brenda Contreras spends her days immersed in classrooms, gaining hands-on teaching experience.

By Cody Bowie
July 26, 2018

If you ask Brenda Contreras what her time at Oregon State has provided her, she’ll answer in one word: opportunities.

Opportunities such as scholarships, a chance to teach near her hometown and experience in a dual-language classroom.

The Oregon State psychology graduate is now finishing her first year in the Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program in clinically based elementary. The two-year master’s degree program features courses delivered online through Oregon State Ecampus and in-person co-teaching experience in the Beaverton School District near Portland.

As part of the program, Brenda spends her days immersed in classrooms, gaining hands-on teaching experience. Each morning she looks forward to the start of the school day. “Greeting them at the door and setting up for the school day, that’s my favorite time,” she says.

Brenda watches as a student in a lime green t-shirt points to something on the whiteboard in front of the classroom.

Brenda didn’t originally envision herself as a teacher, but a part-time job at a child care facility and her own positive experiences in her education helped her realize her love for working with children.

Brenda didn’t originally envision herself as a teacher, but a part-time job at a child care facility and her own positive experiences in her education helped her realize her love for working with children.

As a psychology major, Brenda considered herself to be “out of the loop” when it came to the many opportunities the OSU College of Education offers its students.

“It wasn’t until after I started working in child care that someone told me OSU had a really great teaching program,” she says. “I would go to restaurants in Corvallis and run into people who would tell me about the program.”

But it was more than strong community support that inspired Brenda to apply to the M.A.T. program.

“When I learned Oregon State had a partnership with Beaverton School District, I was sold because it’s so close to home,” she says. Now, Brenda teaches in classrooms fewer than 10 miles from her hometown.

“People [from Oregon State] are getting hired. People are making those connections in the school district and so many of them I know already have jobs.”

Her favorite subject to teach is math, although she also enjoys teaching reading, writing, art and science, spending time in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) classrooms.

Since one of the schools she teaches at also features Spanish dual-language immersion classes, where students are instructed in both Spanish and English, Brenda – and the students she teaches – gain an additional layer of opportunities to explore.

“There’s a lot of research that shows this dual-language model helps ELL (English Language Learner) students,” she says.

The ELL students benefit from learning in their native language while also learning English slowly over the course of their elementary education.

Brenda and another teacher work with two students who share a table. Both students are doing educational activities on learning tablets.

“When I learned Oregon State had a partnership with Beaverton School District, I was sold because it’s so close to home,” Brenda says. Now, Brenda teaches in classrooms less than ten miles from her hometown.

The dual language model also benefits students those who aren’t considered ELL. “They learn to read and write in Spanish,” she says. “It’s also more likely they will be bilingual growing up and in the future.”

The ELL program model at Brenda’s school begins in kindergarten with classes taught completely in Spanish, tapering off to 80 percent Spanish instruction in first and second grades, and finally settling into half Spanish and half English instruction in third grade.

Brenda is grateful for the many opportunities Oregon State has provided her, especially the partnership Oregon State has with local school districts.

“People [from Oregon State] are getting hired. People are making those connections in the school district and so many of them I know already have jobs,” she says.

She appreciates the diverse classrooms she’s been able to work in and the wealth of experience the M.A.T. program has already provided her.

“I don’t get to work at just one school, I’ve worked at multiple schools at the district where I’ve seen different demographics and different school cultures,” she says. “I’ve made a lot of connections at all these schools, and it’s because of Oregon State.”


Cody Bowie is a communications student employee with the OSU College of Education.

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