Alumna is Prepared for an Education Revolution

By Philip Adams (philip.adams@umuc.edu) |   June 3, 2014

Teacher and UMUC alumna Amalia Lopez is part of a revolution in education, and not by chance. She went looking for a place where new ground was being broken, and she found it at Lindsay High School in Tulare County, California. Armed with her bachelor’s degree in English from UMUC, Amalia knew she was well prepared for the challenge.

Amalia Lopez Education and Teaching“A large part of what I learned at UMUC was the narrative of the kids that I would encounter. From the moment I walked into my classroom, I felt I was walking in as an expert."

Amalia Lopez

Bachelor of Science in English

To say that Tulare County is a troubled region of the country is an understatement. With nearly a quarter of the population of this Central Valley agricultural region living in poverty, it has become California’s welfare capital. It is an area of generational poverty, and it’s not hard to understand why. Barely 68 percent of the adult population graduate high school (far below the national average), and only 14 percent finish college, according to the Census Bureau.

The largest—really, the only—industry in Tulare County is agriculture, so most of the citizens make their living picking oranges, lettuce and grapes. As Amalia describes it, the locals and their children are “part of a vicious cycle in which one picks to survive and survives to pick.”

Amalia Lopez and Class

Teacher Amalia Lopez (center back) and Dr. Jyothi Bathina (left), curriculum director, with students from Lindsay High School who contributed to the book Among the Groves: Lindsay Lives.

The situation at Lindsay High School was just as bleak, especially for Amalia, who was hired to teach remedial English to students who were among the 48 percent of the population who spoke languages other than English in their homes.

“As a new teacher,” she explains, “I had the classes of students who often spent more time in corrections and treatment than in school.”

That was the environment that Amalia deliberately sought out upon graduating from UMUC in 2010—because that’s where the revolution was taking place. She saw in the Lindsay Unified School District one of only a handful of places in the entire country that was “daring and dedicated enough” to finally abandon the traditional educational model that had failed the students of Tulare County and adopt performance-based education.

What Amalia found was an innovative, student-centered approach to learning in which students work at their own performance level and advance only when they have demonstrated proficiency in each subject.

Amalia credits UMUC with giving her the tools she needed to take on the challenge and be a good fit for this revolutionary system.

“A large part of what I learned at UMUC was the narrative of the kids that I would encounter. From the moment I walked into my classroom, I felt I was walking in as an expert," she said.

Amalia understood not only why these kids were struggling, but, more importantly, how to get them engaged and eager to learn.

“So often my students would ask me, ‘Why do I have to learn literature?’ At UMUC, I learned the power of the narrative, and I was able to show them that English literature is really their story, they just didn’t know it yet," she said.

By the end of the first year, not only had her students passed the state exams, they had published their own book!

“I am so happy with my degree from UMUC," Lopez said. "This is a university that really prepares you!”