New Mexico’s culturally and linguistically diverse population drew Magdalena Pando from Texas in August 2017, and New Mexico State University’s postdoctoral research opportunities for its students has helped her remain a vital asset to NMSU’s College of Health, Education and Social Transformation.
Pando is an assistant professor in bilingual education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) for the School of Teacher Preparation, Administration and Leadership, or TPAL. She is also principal investigator for Doña Ana County Head Start, and the bilingual and TESOL program coordinator in the School of TPAL.
Pando holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Texas Tech University.
Pando’s research focuses on preparing bilingual and TESOL teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math to teach math and science content to English language learners, so that they are equipped to adequately instruct culturally and linguistically diverse students.
“It’s about adequately preparing those teachers to provide optimal and equitable learning,” said Pando, a former chemistry teacher.
That includes giving teachers access to curriculum in the students’ native language, teacher resources, and assessments in the students’ native language versus English-only.
“There are multiple language strategies that can be provided, like the use of visuals and anchor charts in English and other languages, not limited to Spanish,” Pando said. “In STEM, for example, there are many abstract concepts that are cognates. Cognates are words that share similar meaning, spelling and familiarity in pronunciation, such as ‘precipitation’ and ‘precipitación,’ but if students don’t understand concepts in English or Spanish, that strategy becomes ineffective to a student until the concept develops into their own idea or words.”
Pando said teachers should provide students with concrete experiences in learning, so that a once abstract concept can be converted into a students’ own idea that will become useful to the student.
She added that strategies for teaching English language learners should not solely focus on vocabulary instruction, and stressed the importance of studying the common texts of disciplines like science, as well as the significance of teaching vocabulary. Text instruction as a whole is also needed to provide students with equitable learning opportunities.
“In science, there are specific texts, such as explanations and arguments that require explicit language instruction about the structural and linguistic features of such texts,” Pando said.
When asked about the challenges Pando has encountered in research, she said, “I wish I would have had more postdoctoral opportunities, specifically opportunities that help graduate doctoral students prepare research activity. Fortunately, the School of TPAL and NMSU are on a strategic plan to increase enrollment and funding that will help provide these opportunities for research.”
Rick Marlatt, interim director of the School of TPAL, called Pando “a tremendous asset” for NMSU.
“Her scholarly leadership as principal investigator for Doña Ana County Head Start helps this vital program serve the needs of students and families in our local communities with outreach and service that directly reflects our NMSU Leads 2025 initiatives. And her expertise and coordination of our bilingual education and TESOL teacher education pathways help the School of TPAL to achieve its land-grant, Hispanic-Serving Institutional mission to sustain a robust, diverse, and culturally and linguistically responsive educator pipeline for the state of New Mexico,” Marlatt said.
Doña Ana County Head Start is a sponsored project that offers Head Start and Early Head Start services to 260 children and their families across Doña Ana County. Pando assumed the role in January 2021. The program receives $2.6 million a year to serve students and their families enrolled for services, including family outreach, disability, food and nutrition, health, education and mental health services to promote social and emotional well-being, and to promote the school readiness of children.
Although the program normally employs about 60 people, they are currently experiencing a staffing shortage.
“We have partnered with our early childhood education program and hope to recruit and hire as an effort to become fully staffed and maximize our efforts for serving those 260 children and their families,” Pando said. “Additionally, we are experiencing under enrollment because some parents are a little hesitant to send their child to school because they are fearful of the current situation with the pandemic.”
Pando said Doña Ana County Head Start is following the NMSU COVID-19 policy “to a T as our way of prioritizing their child’s safety during our care.”
She added that short staffing and under enrollment are trends experienced by Head Start and Early Head Start programs nationwide.