University Park, IL,
13:07 PM

Maria Gonzalez, a Language Resource for her Community

2019 Graduate Profiles

Governors State University (GSU) Senior Maria Gonzalez will never forget the flicker that started the spark—the joyful sight of a preschooler suddenly grasping a concept that made her realize she could have a career in bilingual education.

“I was volunteering at a place where my aunt was learning English, babysitting kids for the other adult students. I was teaching colors and numbers to kids who were two to five years old, and their eyes just sparkled. I remember thinking, ‘I can do this for a living.’”

In May, Gonzalez will take the final step on a successful path to leading her own classroom when she receives her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with endorsements in elementary, middle, and bilingual education at (GSU). The daughter of immigrants who spoke only Spanish, Gonzalez is a native English-speaker and eager to help children bridge the language gap she knows firsthand.

“I have the background to know when they’re struggling,” she said.

Gonzalez, then a student at Richard J. Daley College, was drawn to GSU by the award-winning Dual Degree Program, a unique partnership between GSU and 17 Chicagoland community colleges. The DDP provides support and a seamless transition for students to earn associate and bachelor's degrees. “I met (GSU Director of Graduate Admissions and Retention) Jason Vignone who recruited me, and he was a huge help. He told me about the DDP, and I got a full scholarship,” she said.

At GSU, she found the faculty to be excellent instructors who were also supportive. “I was very lucky with all my professors,” she said, “especially Professor Lisa Chang. I was always so afraid of math, but now my specialty is math because of her.”

Lecturer Thomas Bierdz opened a new world to her in special education, inspiring Gonzalez to pursue that endorsement, as well.

Professor Glenna Howell placed me in [west suburban] Woodridge to student teach. I was placed in a  third grade classroom with an amazing mentor teacher.” After student teaching, she was assigned a long-term substitute position as the English Language/Bilingual Resource teacher, where she remains today.

“I have 42 students—kindergarten through second grade—who come from all over the world. I have students from Ghana and Uzbekistan who didn’t speak a word of English when I first met them. At first, I was disappointed because I wanted to be a classroom teacher not an EL teacher, but now I love my position.”

As a wife and mother with two young children who worked part-time for Chicago Public Schools while she was enrolled at GSU, Gonzalez’s life was full to the brim with responsibility and commitments.

But she was grateful that her hard work paid off as she was welcomed into GSU’s Honors Program.

Despite her packed schedule, Gonzalez made time for others. “I volunteered once a month, mostly for projects where I could take my daughters along, like helping at a fun run in Peotone, ” she said. “I think it’s really good for them to have these experiences.”

While student teaching, Gonzalez found her time was precious, but the experience confirmed that the classroom is the place she needs to be, especially for students who speak Spanish or another language.

“As an EL/Bilingual resource teacher, I have very small classes of just six or eight students. With such a small group, you really get to know and help the students. They are amazing. I think I’ve learned more from my students than they’ve learned from me.”