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Future teachers, Students Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

University invites more than 200 area kindergartners to campus.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 5-6-2015

It was one small step for Chihuahuas and one giant leap for Skippyjon Jones.

The Siamese kitten — who thinks he’s a Chihuahua — was off to Mars, a true “astonaut-ito,” (expect for his big ears, of course).

While kindergartners from Hoover Elementary laughed and giggled, the precocious kitten rollicked and romped all over the universe, brought to life by the Minnesota State University, Mankato student reading Judy Schachner’s book “Lost in Spice” out loud.

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the university hosted literacy day Tuesday, inviting more than 200 area kindergartners to the campus for a special event. Elementary education students taught lessons based on the Skippy JonJones books, which feature Spanish as well as “Spanglish,” a gringo-ized version of the language that merges English and Spanish into an almost nonsensical hybrid.

“Look! A Martian-ito!”

The teacher candidates already have spent 146 hours in the field, teaching classes and lending a hand at local schools, said education professor Lori Piowlski. Before they graduate, they’ll spend at least 600 hours in the classroom.

“You know how in the medical field doctors have to do residencies so they’re safe to practice?” she said. “This is the same thing.”

They are learning more than curriculum and lesson planning, she said. Also woven into their education is cultural competency, the ability to teach students from diverse backgrounds.

Teachers need to know how to overcome biases and relate to students from various cultures, Piolowski said, especially if the state wants to close its achievement gap.

“We know 84 percent of our teachers are white and female,” Piolowski said.

“Across the country, with demographic swings, we want to make sure those white female teachers can meet the needs of all students.”

Kayla White, one of the elementary education majors, said she and her fellow students have been working since February to come up with lesson plans based on the books and align them to the state’s educational standards.

At the same time, they’ve been in and out of local schools getting hands-on experience with kids.

“We’re learning how to teach, basically,” she said, adding it was important to make kids aware of other cultures as well.

“Some friends are different,” she said. “... They might talk differently. They might dress differently. They may not eat a certain thing.”

Ashley Rehder, a kindergarten teacher, said the event represented a good partnership between Minnesota State Mankato and Hoover Elementary.

(There were also teachers and kindergartners from Loyola Catholic School.) Kids recognized the teacher candidates from their visits to the school — and were excited to learn from them.

In turn, the Minnesota State Mankato students got to see just how much work goes into being a wellrounded teacher. An Minnesota State Mankato graduate herself, Rehder said it’s things such as cultural competency that transform students into good educators

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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