Puerto Rico Recruitment Brings Mother-Daughter Teaching Pair to FCPS Immersion Program
When Lesliean Luna, a teacher for almost 20 years in Puerto Rico, was approached by a friend to attend an educator recruitment session for a Virginia school district, she says she agreed to go out of curiosity.
Two weeks later, Luna had decided to uproot her life and accept a job teaching in the Spanish immersion program at Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Fairfax County. Fairfax County Public Schools boast 17 elementary schools with language immersion programs, including 12 that are Spanish language.
“I still remember my interview with my principal – she asked me what could be expected if she visited my classroom,” Luna said. “I said you may find me with maracas, singing the multiplication tables and I said I liked it when my kids dance during the day. That interview changed my whole life.”
Luna, who was hired in 2016 as one of the first FCPS educator recruits from Puerto Rico, has taught in the Spanish immersion program at Laurel Ridge ever since. After marrying a man from Puerto Rico that she met while living in Virginia, she also recruited a sister-in-law who was a teacher on the island to come teach in FCPS. And this year, her daughter was hired to teach in FCPS via the same recruitment program after getting her college degree and becoming a licensed teacher in Puerto Rico.
“I used to go visit my mom’s classroom a lot and I fell in love with the program,” said Luna’s daughter, Gabriela Muriente, who is now a third grade Spanish immersion program teacher at Bailey’s Upper Elementary School. “I love that you have so many students from different countries. In Puerto Rico, most people are from Puerto Rico. Here, you are teaching in Spanish to a kid whose parents may be from Guatemala, or maybe they are from Virginia or maybe they are from Africa. I love that.”
Luna, who also teaches third grade Spanish immersion, says she decided to make the leap to move to Virginia because she envisioned an easier life for her family. Back home in Puerto Rico, in addition to teaching, she also worked as a babysitter. And a clown. It was necessary as a single mother of two girls to work several jobs in addition to teaching to make ends meet on the island, Luna says.
“Now I can just focus on being a teacher,” Luna said. “I am making three times as much as I did back home, I don’t have to dig into my pockets for supplies. It is very hard when the salary is lower and the resources aren’t there.”
She also says she enjoys professional development programs that encourage her to rely on data-backed models for instruction.
“I am much more intentional with what I do in the classroom, I finally know why I need to do things a certain way as a teacher,” Luna said.
Both mother and daughter note the system works well for FCPS as well, because hiring teachers who are native Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is much easier in terms of license transfers than hiring from other countries.
Four of the seven Spanish immersion program teachers at Laurel Ridge hail from Puerto Rico, Luna says.
The recruitment program “is the only reason we can offer Spanish immersion to this extent here,” Bailey’s Upper Elementary School Principal Marie Lemmon said.
Luna’s daughter, Muriente, says she is always reminding her students how they will benefit later in life from knowing multiple languages.
“I say just think how much Spanish you will know by the time you reach college, this is going to open doors for you in the future,” Muriente says. “I’m finding it goes both ways too. Sometimes if I say something in English that isn’t quite right, a student will say: oh no, Senorita Muriente, you don’t say it like that. You say it like this.
I say: `We are both learning from each other huh? You are learning Spanish while I’m improving my English,’” Muriente says.
Their students say they’re grateful to be learning from a teacher whose first language is Spanish and can share about life outside the mainland U.S.
“I know my teacher is from Puerto Rico and that it’s hot there and they have lots of mangoes,” Laurel Ridge ES third-grader Nalini Agarwal says. “Her first language she ever knew was Spanish and now I can use what she’s taught me to visit other countries and understand more.”