Posted on August 7, 2020 by Libby Castillo

By Libby Castillo

Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, for the first time in its 17-year history, the Summer Bridging Institute (SBI) hosted by the Academy for Teacher Excellence (ATE) Research Center was held completely online. Through a committed effort from the SBI committee, students and ATE, this year’s institute was able to engage with more than 400 participants through ZOOM.

“I think that because the SBI has been in place for so many years, the ground work for what it is and what it should be didn’t change, we still had the same purpose,” Dr. Claudia T. Garcia, Assistant Professor in Practice, and SBI co-chair said. “We just had to pivot our normal SBI into an online SBI.”

Though in a virtual setting, the free institute maintained its platform of providing both large group sessions, small breakout sessions and presentations from experts in the field. Topics presented during this year’s institute included: STEM, Student Advocacy, Instructional Technology, Socio-emotional learning, Interdisciplinary Instructional Designs and Strategies, Special Education, Clinical Teaching, and Virtual Instruction. Sessions focused on creating student-centered lessons, developing strategies that can be implemented to stimulate, guide, and build capacity of diverse student populations. The workshops and discussions at the institute aim to expand the knowledge on a variety of topics important to SBI attendees.

“The Summer Bridging Institute really focuses on teacher development with an emphasis on identity,” Adriana Abundis, SBI presenter said. “This program does a really good job at marrying this introspection with tangible and efficient classroom strategies.”

During her session “A Mexican American Studies Approach to Secondary Mathematics,” Abundis, Dual Language Algebra, Math Luchadores Master Teacher at Lanier High School taught attendees the importance of implementing a Mexican American Studies approach to mathematics instruction. She described how integrating the rich cultures and identities of the students plays an integral role in promoting student cultural identity and esteem, self-discipline and academic determination.

“A lot of people think that mathematics is cultural-less, and it’s the ultimate equalizer and I wanted to argue that that was a fallacy,” Abundis said. “I wanted people to feel that ethnic studies pedagogy is embedded in mathematics, and as math teachers we can elevate the voices of our students of color.”

The COVID-19 public health crisis not only changed the way this year’s SBI was held, but organizers recognized the need for workshops and presentations that focused more teaching in a virtual environment.

“This year we had more focus on technology due to the fact that we’re having to transition to more online teaching,” Dr. Garcia said. “We specifically looked for presenters that could embed technology in their presentation and who were familiar with tools out there that we could use to teach both in the classroom and at the university level.”

One workshop taught by Dr. Karina Villa titled “Bitmoji Virtual Classroom in Google Slides” showed attendees how to create a bitmoji virtual interactive classroom using Google slides. Not only does this add a personal touch to the classroom, the tools allow students to easily navigate and locate materials such as videos, apps, websites and assignments.

“It’s almost like you’re still in the classroom, it’s more engaging and more personal,” UTSA Senior Camille Veith studying Interdisciplinary Studies at COEHD said. “Using the bitmoji is even better because it looks like you! It made me really excited about virtual learning and distance learning; I’m really motivated now.”

Though it is designed to offer professional development opportunities for both current and future educators, the SBI is so much more. It offers attendees the opportunity to create connections and build a community of educators and experts in the field. Shared passions for self-development, education and community is the glue that binds attendees and has made the SBI a success for 17 years.

“When you are a part of this program you feel like you are a part of a family,” Abundis said. “The personal development you go through is going to transform who you are not just as a teacher in your pedagogy but the way you view life, the way you view yourself.”

— Libby Castillo