The late María Torres-Guzmán, longtime director of TC’s program in Bilingual/Bicultural Education, believed children learn best with access to their native tongue — and that kids who grow up navigating different languages and cultures often are particularly knowledgeable and self-reliant.  

Torres-Guzmán helped remake P.S. 165, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, into a dual language-centered school, transforming the culture of a struggling institution and dramatically boosting its pass rate on standardized tests.

Rebeca Madrigal

Rebeca Madrigal (M.A. ’98) (Photo Courtesy of Rebeca Madrigal) 

In 1998, Rebeca Madrigal was teaching at P.S. 165 when a boy named Fidel, newly arrived from Mexico’s Guerrero State, entered her third-grade class. One day, after Madrigal asked her students to write about a special memory — a birthday party, an amusement park outing — Fidel handed her a blank sheet.

Another teacher might have assumed the boy had tuned out or was being defiant. Madrigal, who had come to New York from Mexico at age 14, guessed that Fidel had never seen an American-style birthday party or an amusement park. She praised him for speaking Mixteco, Spanish and English and encouraged him to describe the cows and other animals he’d once awakened to each morning.

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“I had to create a channel for my student — his experiences in Mexico,” she recalls. “It was Fidel’s first sign he had knowledge. And it opened my eyes to what being a teacher means.”

Fidel’s daughter will soon enter kindergarten at Dos Puentes Elementary in Washington Heights. The following year, she’ll have one of the school’s founding teachers: Rebeca Madrigal.