Bilingual early childhood studies graduate brings music to the classroom

Bilingual early childhood studies graduate brings music to the classroom

Ruben Sandoval moved to California in 2003 from his native Colombia with a work visa to play and teach music in a church band. Before coming to the United States, Sandoval studied pedagogy in college and then taught at the middle and elementary school level.

Ruben Sandoval outside his third grade classroom at Corvallis’ Garfield Elementary School, which has a dual immersion curriculum.

Sandoval eventually began to work with kids again – first in an after-school program and then teaching Spanish at a private school.

When he moved to Oregon, he found work as a bilingual education assistant, but he wanted to teach again.

The prospect of starting college over again so he could get a teaching license was daunting until Western Oregon University offered him a Project Piece scholarship in 2014.

Although he didn’t know exactly what it would take to get a teaching degree, he decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity and he began his studies at WOU.

Sandoval said staff at WOU worked hard to help him transfer some of the credits he’d earned before, both from Colombia and from classes he’d taken in California, but he still came into the university with a lot to do.

“I had to basically start over again, with some exceptions,” he said.

Sandoval’s schedule became especially challenging that year when he was able to get hired on an emergency teaching license at Garfield Elementary School in Corvallis because the dual-immersion school was struggling to hire a long-term bilingual substitute when a teacher went on maternity leave. The school was able to keep Sandoval on as a teacher permanently as he continued making progress on his degree.

Sandoval said during this time he was able to take some classes at WOU online and face-to-face. He also took advantage of the dual enrollment at WOU and Chemeketa to take other classes at Chemeketa Community College. He said this was a challenging time for him because he’d sometimes teach a full day and then drive an hour to spend all evening in classes. “It was a lot,” he said.

Sandoval completed a bachelor’s degree in early childhood studies in 2018 and still teaches at Garfield. “I had a really good experience at WOU,” he said. He said the effort was worthwhile for him to be a teacher again. “If you want to make a difference in students and you love to serve people, this is the way to go,” he said.

Sandoval added that in his classroom he works to create a learning community, where he learns with students and acknowledges when he makes mistakes or doesn’t know something. “Humble yourself and learn from others,” he said. “I learn from my students every single day. My key in school is teamwork. Learn from everybody.”

Music was what brought Sandoval to the U.S., and it still plays a role in his classroom: he usually ends his classes each day by playing guitar for his students and leading them in singing songs in Spanish. “At the end of the day it’s challenging to do something quiet,” he said.

Sandoval said music is a universal language and an authentic, developmentally appropriate way to practice multiple skills, including language.

There are so many things that music does in the classroom. It builds a sense of community; in some ways it creates a sense of belonging too. They are genuinely connected.