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Preparation Program Gives New Perspective

“I saw what it was like to come into an environment where no one can understand you and you can’t understand them.”

– Alyssa Gallagher

Alyssa Gallagher

UNM student teacher Alyssa Gallagher teaching in a classroom in 2013 in the school Volkschule Hietzing am Platz.

Student Teaching in Austria Heightens Awareness of Language Barriers

In 2015, ten UNM students took part in a student teacher development program with the Austrian American Education Cooperation Association. The program—called Student Teachers in Austria Reach Success (STARS) —began in 2011.

Participants in STARS are elementary education and special education dual license students. During the student teaching sequence, UNM teacher candidates can complete an additional month in an Austrian school, says Deborah Rifenbary, Associate Dean, College of Education and coordinator of the program. Teaching in Vienna and in southeastern Austria, the student teachers facilitate lessons in English, and the Austrian schoolchildren learn more about the U.S. and New Mexico.

Experiencing “the fear to speak in my native language”

In 2013, Alyssa Gallagher was one of five students who participated in the STARS program in Austria.

As with other students in the program, Alyssa reported that she came away with a renewed understanding of what it is like to be a non-native speaker in a classroom, thus giving her new insight for working with a diverse student population in New Mexico.

“This was so important for me to experience,” Alyssa said, “because in New Mexico many students come into the public school system not knowing English, or having very limited English.”

She remarked on what it was like to experience “the culture shock, the language barrier and the fear to speak in my native language.”

“When I experienced this first hand, I saw what it was like to come into an environment where no one can understand you and you can’t understand them. I left Vienna with a great desire to learn another language and to better myself as an educator in working with children who speak English as a second language.”

Now an alumna of the College of Education at UNM, Alyssa says that her experience in Austria heavily influenced her subsequent work as a teacher and her recent decision to pursue a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a minor in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

TrottsWhy I Give

My parents were not able to attend college, however, both were passionate about education and about service to the community. Wayne and I established The John and Dolores Colby Memorial Scholarship to support graduate students in special education certification programs to honor that legacy of commitment and to express our gratitude for their sacrifices which, in part, enabled their children and grandchildren to attend college (all but one at UNM!).

Wayne and Maryann Trott