Teaching student proves devotion to profession with research, engagement

May 12, 2015

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If you ask Rachel Manak what her favorite part of teaching is, her eyes light up. Rachel Manak Download Full Image

“All of it,” she declares without hesitation.

But, she admits, there is “one specific story that kind of sums it up better than anything else.”

During her junior-year internship as a second-grade student teacher, Manak was helping a child with a learning disability to read. After several attempts, she said, “He finally got it, and he just looked at me, and he’s like, ‘[Gasp!]’ and got so excited, he was crying. It’s just that sense of, ‘OK, you’re helping someone to feel excited about something as simple as reading, but it’s making this huge difference in their life.’”

The senior in elementary education at Arizona State University has proven her devotion to the profession, specifically the area of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects to English language learners, with an impressive portfolio of research projects and community engagement.

She is graduating from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

“What makes her special is her ongoing involvement in research projects at the undergraduate level,” said Irina Okhremtchouk, assistant professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who has served as a mentor to Manak for the past couple of years.

Manak first caught Okhremtchouk’s attention when she took a bilingual course with her during Manak’s freshmen year at ASU.

“She seemed impressed with the papers I wrote for her course, so she said, ‘I have a colleague, and I would like for you to do a research project with him as an intern,’” Manak recalls.

That colleague was Steve Zuiker, also an assistant professor in the Teachers College. The project was researching something called transformational play, which implements video games in the classroom as an alternative learning tool for students.

“[Zuiker] actually implemented this video game in Singapore that incorporates science content knowledge. So [the student] becomes this little park ranger who has to determine why these fish are dying in this lake,” Manak said.

She assisted in compiling and analyzing the data collected from the students in Singapore to determine the efficacy of transformational play in the classroom. The verdict: It did indeed make a positive difference in helping students understand various concepts and vocabulary.

After Manak completed the project with Zuiker, Okhremtchouk had another research proposition for her; this time, working directly with her and another colleague, George Sellu of the University of California Davis.

The trio surveyed teachers in Arizona to find out how well prepared they feel to teach students who don’t speak English, with a focus on STEM subjects.

What they found “was actually kind of surprising,” Manak said. “We found that methods that have shown to work in theory, teachers haven’t necessarily found to work in their classroom.”

Manak presented those findings, along with Sellu, in the paper “An Analysis of Teacher Readiness to Teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Subjects to English Language Learners: Arizona Context” at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Chicago on April 18. She was one of the first undergraduates to attend and present at the meeting, which is the largest international gathering of scholars in the field of education research.

The trio plan to continue their research, this time focusing on teachers in California, and submit their findings to next years’ AERA meeting.

“It's been a great experience learning through Irina and developing the skills needed to research a hot topic in education and to find a significance that could potentially make a difference in how teachers are taught to be teachers,” Manak said.

Manak, who also serves as the vice president of the ASU Geology Club organizing outreach events like the Earth and Space Open House and Camp SESE, is finishing up her student-teaching requirements at Kyrene Del Pueblo Middle School in Chandler.

She already has a job lined up after graduation, teaching seventh- and eighth-grade science at Dietz Elementary in Tucson, a Title 1 school that just recently converted to a K-8 school.

“I’ll be the only science teacher in seventh and eighth grade, so it will be interesting to see what happens but I’m pretty excited,” she said.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

ASU prep program empowers parents to take active role in children's education

May 12, 2015

Though their son was already a freshman in architecture at Arizona State University, Patricia and Jaime Fabian worried that their two daughters lacked the motivation to follow him to college.

That is, until they began participating in ASU’s American Dream Academy. Jaime, Patricia and Yennifer Fabian attend ASU's American Dream Academy Download Full Image

The academy is a free 10-week, parent-empowerment program that teaches families how to navigate the educational process and take an active role in their children’s educational lives through a series of classes, which both the parents and the student attend.

Studies have shown that college graduates earn considerably more over the course of their careers, but for some, the process of applying and getting through college is too daunting of an obstacle. That’s where the academy steps in, helping break down the process into approachable steps.

The Fabians’ older daughter, Yennifer, is a freshman at Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix. She’s at a key time for laying the groundwork for college.

"Yennifer has been motivated to go to college after attending the classes, and she has been taking some of the advice they gave us, such as doing a lot of extracurricular activities,” said Patricia Fabian, whose younger daughter, Anareli, is in seventh grade. “[The program] has been very helpful in providing information on how to get accepted into universities and get scholarships.”

Much of what she and her husband learned while taking the classes with Yennifer, they were able to pass on to Jaime Jr., as it was also helpful to him as an ASU freshmen.

“My parents learned that communicating with teachers is really important for our success in school. They also learned about programs for financial aid, such as loans and scholarships and how they work,” said Jaime Jr.

Since 2006, the American Dream Academy has implemented more than 600 programs, served 30,000 parents and empowered more than 80,000 students in Arizona schools. Now, one of its biggest sponsors and the nation’s third-largest public power utility, the Salt River Project (SRP) is presenting the American Dream Academy with a $100,000 grant as a three-year extension of its commitment to the program.

The grant will be presented to the American Dream Academy as it graduates its 30,000th parent – Patricia and Jaime Fabian together represent the 30,000th parent – at a ceremony at 6 p.m., May 13, at Trevor G. Browne High School, 7402 W. Catalina Drive, Phoenix.

“We are excited to be a part of this important milestone,” said Tony Moya, SRP community relations program manager. “It is remarkable to see how many families have benefited from these programs since 2009, and will be an honor to participate as the 30,000th parent graduates from the ADA program.”

SRP has contributed more than $660,000 to the American Dream Academy since 2009. Including the new, three-year commitment, SRP’s total contribution will be nearly $1 million.

“The funding provided by SRP allows the American Dream Academy to invest in more students to help them realize their educational goals by educating and empowering their parents to navigate our educational system and effectively communicate with teachers and administrators to support their child’s development,” said Alex Perilla, director of the American Dream Academy.

For Patricia and Jaime Fabian, who struggled and had to work hard every day for their family after dropping out of middle school, a program like the American Dream Academy has made the difference between their children having to follow in their footsteps, or being able to go in a different direction and find success through higher education.

“There were a couple of times throughout the year when I was really struggling, that I thought to myself that college wasn't for me and that I should just drop out,” said their son, Jaime Jr. “But I kept going because I realized how lucky I am to be in this position … the program has given me a lot of confidence to continue.”

“I am really proud of my son,” Patricia said. “I have high expectations for him.”

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657