By Dylan Valic
Dr. Efleda Tolentino, the director of the early childhood education program in the College of Education, Information and Technology since 2008, aims to teach and inspire the next generation of teachers.
“I believe that children are our future,” Tolentino said. “It’s important, therefore, to provide them with the knowledge, as well as the skills that they need in order to thrive in the world that we prepare for them.”
Tolentino aims to create a conversation between teachers and students that fosters education and acceptance. “In order for children to learn meaningfully, they need to engage in exploratory dialogue with each other,” she said. “This entails the teacher creating an environment [in] which students feel free to share their thinking and explore topics, as well as strands of inquiry within that environment.”
Early childhood education incorporates children from kindergarten to second grade. By teaching children during their formative years, Tolentino believes teachers are able to provide them with the knowledge and skills they will need later in their lives.
In 2012, Tolentino started a pen pal program that gives her students the opportunity to write to public school teachers. They use Jonathan Kozol’s book, “Letters to a Young Teacher” as a basis to start a dialogue about teaching in public schools. The program has been successful in helping students, as well as teachers; establish a connection over the shared interest of education.
“In the span of ten weeks my students and their pen pals get to know each other on a personal level, as well as on a professional level,” Tolentino said. “So what happens is that students become more aware of the persona behind the teacher, they realize that each teacher is their own person, and that every teacher has their own philosophy, their own values, their own beliefs.”
The pen pal program has helped students feel a sense of community. They can empathize with people who share their goals. It also helps teachers who are already in the field gain a new perspective, which can positively impact their students.
Tolentino believes that professors not only have a responsibility to teach students, but to have them engage with the community. “Service is part of a higher institutional mission and is inextricably linked with our teaching and scholarship,” she said. “When we work in partnership with local schools and communities, we emerge with awareness that can lead to curricular reform and reshaping the educational agenda.”
Tolentino believes faculty members are the link between university students and their community. “Our mission as educators is to seek out opportunities within the community that will prepare students to become responsive teachers and community members.”