How This Student Is Bridging the Gap Between Primary and Higher Ed
When Zoey Solano was in high school, she resisted the idea of going into the “family business” of elementary education.
“Everyone expected me to be a teacher, and I told myself I wasn’t going to do that,” she says. But when I thought about it, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Now a junior at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and with several internships on her CV, Solano is confident she made the right decision: “I love every aspect of it—getting to know the kids, seeing how they learn and interact with each other, and how it all comes together. I just love it.”
In summer 2023, Solano is part of the student intern program at CourseGateway through Every Learner Everywhere, where she will explore equity and courseware while working with experienced educators who create the independent courseware reviews there.
Preparing the ground
Solano is excited to examine teaching and learning in a higher education context and see how it compares to her prior experience preparing to be an elementary education teacher. Elementary education is often very hands on, she says, because students have a high level of dependency on teachers, while she notices that college work is often about nurturing the ability to learn in other contexts.
“In higher education, learning resources are more integrated into different experiences, like with this internship,” she says.
Part of working with CourseGateway requires asking what it takes for a college student to be successful. Thinking critically about learning materials, Solano says, has already helped her reflect more on what is effective in elementary education and influences the path to future success.
For example, “Obviously, most kids aren’t thinking about college in third grade, but you’re the foundation for making sure they’re on the right track to be successful,” she says. “Whether that’s a four-year university, community college, trade school, or other opportunities that come their way, you want to make sure you’re promoting that and supporting their passions.”
Every child’s education matters
Because elementary school potentially introduces students to a lifetime of learning, Solano doesn’t take her future role lightly. She’s passionate about providing opportunity and support for all students, and she takes equitable education personally.
“I come from an interracial household, but I don’t look very Hispanic, so I recognize my privilege of being a light-skinned Hispanic woman,” Solano says. “That doesn’t keep me from loving my culture, and I’m aware of the inequities presented to Hispanic children in education, so I’m a strong advocate for voices unheard.”
This realization drives her commitment to leveling the playing field for minoritized students at the earliest ages. “It’s a child,” she says. “They didn’t choose to be born into a society that didn’t accept them or want to represent them, so the most important thing you can do as an educator is to treat them equitably. They need to know that their education means just as much as the next student’s education.”
A new perspective
Solano believes a key to equitable learning is communication, and recently she has been reflecting on how much that depends on active awareness as she learns American Sign Language. She admits she initially saw the courses as a means to fulfill a language requirement. Now, she sees it as an opportunity to connect with a whole new community.
“My roommate is a major in Deaf interpretation. She showed me a little bit of ASL, and I fell in love with it,” she says. “It’s so much more than just a language. There’s the whole Deaf community and a whole new culture.”
While Deaf education is a unique specialization, Solano hopes that her experience with ASL will enable her to promote accessibility-first and student-focused attitudes in elementary education generally.
“It’s important to communicate with students for whom you might have to find a different method to communicate,” she says. “It might be uncomfortable to you, but making sure that student is comfortable is way more important than your discomfort.”