The El Yunque rainforest is one of the top tourist attractions in Puerto Rico, with over one million visitors per year. It is also the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. As a child, I visited El Yunque on numerous occasions during family visits to my maternal grandmother’s house in Puerto Rico. As with many other Puerto Ricans, El Yunque holds a special place in my heart as the location of numerous excursions along the trails and waterfalls of the rainforest with my parents, siblings, and extended family. However, it was in the summer of 1997 that El Yunque took on a new significance for me when my wife, Randi, and I brought our children to Puerto Rico. I had recently received a doctorate in the learning sciences from Northwestern University, becoming the first Hispanic learning scientist in the country. While visiting El Yunque, Randi and I had the epiphany that El Yunque — an important part of my cultural heritage — was a national treasure that needed to be shared with students throughout the United States.
When Randi and I started The Learning Partnership almost 20 years ago, the Journey to El Yunque program became a cornerstone of the work that we have been doing. We have developed strong partnerships in Puerto Rico to use the research on El Yunque as a rich resource for improving STEM education for students in Puerto Rico. As our work has expanded over the years, we have stressed the importance of connecting STEM content to students’ cultural identities. For Puerto Rican students in Chicago, Journey to El Yunque provides a connection to their homeland. However, for all students, seeing the connections of school subjects to their own lives is extremely important for student success This year, we have launched two new projects that extend that work in Puerto Rico and in Chicago. In honor of the closing of National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021, we spotlight our two new Hispanic postdoctoral research fellows who have joined the team in Puerto Rico (Isabel Delgado Quiñones) and in Chicago (Raisa Canete Blazquez). We also shine a spotlight on our Hispanic educational research coordinator (Cat McGee).
Isabel Delgado Quiñones
I am proud to be Hispanic. Being born and raised in Puerto Rico has given me the opportunity to be part of the Hispanic community but, also be part of the United States of America. Puerto Rico is a Caribbean Island that is blessed with a tropical climate and a rich culture that embraces the African Caribbean, the Spanish, the Taino and the North American roots.
My educational experiences from kindergarten to 12th grade provided me the opportunity to be bilingual (English and Spanish) that served me later as a professional educator. Being completely educated at the University of Puerto Rico (bachelors to doctoral degree) has provided me the skills, knowledge, and competencies as a science teacher as well as an educational researcher. This Hispanic heritage has been pivotal in my professional career particularly as part of The Learning Partnership as a qualitative researcher on the ITEST Data Jam project in Puerto Rico.
Being able to conduct research in my country for teachers and students in Puerto Rico is a unique and valuable opportunity to learn about how to better equip our educational system to support STEM education and foster STEM careers for all, particularly Puerto Ricans as part of the Hispanic community. I am honored to be part of a multicultural and supportive team at The Learning Partnership that is committed to improving the learning experiences of our community.
Raisa Canete Blazquez
My name is Raisa Blazquez and I am proud to be one of the Hispanic researchers at The Learning Partnership. Born and raised in Spain, I spent the first 23 years of my life growing up between Barcelona, where I was born, and the island of Mallorca. My roots are ingrained in the Spanish/Mediterranean food, culture, and lifestyle, but also influenced by connections with other Hispanic cultures around the globe. I am blessed with family friends from Cuba and Mexico that made a huge impact on my life, and meeting people from other Hispanic countries while living in the U.S. always made me feel a little closer to home. I think we are all connected in a special way, and there is something about sharing the Spanish language (sometimes more than that!) that brings people together and builds community.
My perspectives reflect my experiences, fueling my desire to work for equity in education. Whether as a student, teacher, or researcher, I was always amazed by the wide range of ethnicities, cultures, languages, and identities found among students in U.S. classrooms across educational contexts. Yet much of what (and how) is taught in the classroom still targets the needs of white, American, English-speaking, middle-class students. For many students, discrepancies between their identities and what (and how) they are learning may impact their academic experiences and outcomes. And I know first-hand that the impact extends to issues of identity and belongingness.
I joined The Learning Partnership this past summer as a postdoctoral researcher to work on the Exploring Connections project, which focuses on helping students connect their lives to computer science course content, making it more relevant and meaningful. My background and experiences help me with the work that I do to better understand and address the challenges that Hispanic high school students in Chicago Public Schools face in Computer Science classes. I look forward to engaging with Hispanic students and their families to increase our understanding on how their lived experiences influence their education. I feel fortunate to work with a team and partners that share an important goal, and I hope to leave a positive impact on the lives and experiences of Hispanic students and their families.
I have so many fond memories of visiting Puerto Rico as a kid. Visiting my abuelita on the island, immersing myself in the culture and food always felt like coming home. Whenever we would leave and return to the states, I had many moments of feeling like I couldn’t fully embrace my identity as a Hispanic woman feeling like I often wasn’t Hispanic enough. Puerto Rico is a place where everywhere I looked, there was something to learn and embrace about my culture. Coming back, I had to work harder to stay connected to that part of myself. There is so much of my family traditions that are rooted in my Puerto Rican culture that has been a foundation upon which the rest of my identity work has stemmed from over the years. Even with my family traditions, I continued to crave a better understanding of who I am and how my identify ties into my Hispanic culture.
As I have grown older, that journey continues but thankfully along the way I have found so many others who have had similar experiences to me and with that community we are able to share our stories and resources with each other to find solidarity in our identities. I have found that the beauty of being Hispanic is that it does not mean one singular thing. There are so many countries, cultures, cities, and neighborhoods that hold their own traditions and understandings of what it means to be Hispanic and that is something truly worth celebrating.
In my work with The Learning Partnership, we work with students from an incredibly diverse array of backgrounds and the positive impact we’ve seen from encouraging teachers to connect their content to the cultures and identities of their students has been immeasurable. I’m excited to continue this work especially with our Exploring Connections project which focuses on helping students connect their lives to students’ current computer science course content.