When Fabiola Liviera first attended her "Cross Curricular Literacy" class at the University of North Texas at Dallas this semester, she knew she had finally found her creative outlet.

Liviera attended Mountain View College for four years earning an associate's degree, and since August 2009 she has been a student at UNT Dallas. During that time, she has taken the required courses for becoming a teacher, and all of them were "theory" classes, she said. In her mind she kept asking, "When will I take a class where I get to do hands-on activities that I can relate to a real classroom?"

The first day she attended the children's literature class at UNT Dallas, Teacher Education Lecturer Ruth Guevara told the class all the things they would be doing. "That sounded like a lot of work, and it is," Liviera said, "but this is what I was waiting for."

From January to March Liviera did her first professional development internship rotation at Salazar Elementary School in Oak Cliff just minutes from her house. Now she's interning at Stockard Middle School in an eighth-grade algebra class. As she watches the instructor teach, she thinks about how she can use artwork to open kids' eyes.

One of the assignments in Guevara's class was to read a children's book and develop a visual display to explain the book. Soon after that during her internship at Salazar, Liviera watched the sixth grade social studies/language arts reading teacher discuss elements of literature.

Liviera decided to do her assignment on the Mexican book Loteria she previously had read to her son and to visualize the elements of literature on a mobile using pictures from the loteria game. "Loteria is 'bingo' in Spanish," she said. "We have the rooster, the moon and the sun, the trees, the boot. It's a game that families play in Mexico. That's what we do every Sunday after dinner. You can play for money or just for fun."

The book is about a boy who grew up in the United States and goes to El Salvador to spend the summer with his grandmother. He's afraid because he doesn't speak Spanish and his grandmother doesn't speak English, but he learns Spanish playing loteria with her every day at the local community fair. In the end he doesn't want to go back to the United States because he had so much fun playing the game with his grandmother.

Her six-year-old son, Steve, loved Loteria, so Liviera decided that she had to choose the book, which represents something traditional to the Hispanic students at Salazar. She loves working on art projects for her class, and when she works on them, Steve always helps. "He says, 'Mommy, I have to help you!'"

Guevara and Liviera's classmates have been impressed with her artwork. The mobile she created for Loteria was "incredible," Guevara said. Liviera's mother said that as a little girl, she always carried a notebook and a box of crayons or colored pens. "You didn't know how to write, but you knew how to draw," her mother told her.

Liviera's grandfather is a musician—"He plays the accordion, piano and drums"—and her mother is a talented seamstress, so her artistic talent came naturally.

"Fabiola is one of those unique students who has the natural talent and artistic skills to take what she sees and create a work of art," Guevara said. "She has this gift to create meaning through art and use the visual images she forms to help her comprehend concepts in a way that she learns best. Creating visual images helps her make real connections and meaning with the reading."

Liviera is pursuing an interdisciplinary education degree with a certification in math and ESL for fourth through eighth grades. She believes she can use art to teach middle school math just as she could to teach any subject.

"We can always use art," she said. "I did a lesson plan on the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2), and I asked my students to create a painting or a drawing to relate it to a right triangle and then estimate their height, width and length, and then prove if it's a right triangle. That is art."

She can show her students a painting of a house or a ramp for skateboards and see if they can identify triangles. Using art and common, everyday things and relating it to their lives is one way to help students learn. She knows, Liviera said, because that is how she learned.

"Being a LEP (limited English proficiency) student, everything that teachers provided in class was very helpful for me." One of her ESL teachers had lots of children's books and art, which also was helpful. "Providing that kind of thing for my eighth grade class, I think that will be very helpful for them."

Guevara—who also was a second language learner—agreed saying that math has a visual component. "Pairing math with art provides opportunities to bridge the difficult areas of math by featuring the work of an artist such as Pablo Picasso and his use of geometric shapes."

Liviera called herself a visual and kinesthetic learner, meaning she needs hands-on activities to learn. "If you tell me two plus two equals four, I won't get that concept until I see it and work it out."

Liviera's family moved from Mexico to Dallas when she was in eighth grade. She attended Raul Quintanilla Middle School. In her first year in Dallas, she and her Hispanic classmates could not communicate with their math teacher who didn't speak Spanish. She calls that eighth grade math class a lost year. Fortunately, she said, she was very good at math in Mexico.

After attending Molina High School for grades nine and 10, Liviera got married at age 16 and they moved to Houston. She graduated from Sam Houston High School in 2004 and became pregnant, and they moved back to Dallas to live with her parents.

With her parents helping care for their son, Liviera enrolled at Mountain View College in January 2005 and became very involved in campus life. She served as student ambassador, president of the Life Transitions club, in LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and in Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Honor Society where she was historian, secretary and vice president. Along the way she received three Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Scholarships.

After six years in Texas, she still had to take ESL classes at Mountain View because of her struggle with English. "I guess those six years weren't enough for me to get proficient in English."

Liviera has thrived at UNT Dallas. She loves the diversity. "The minorities are not minorities. We share ideas. We work together. To be a teacher you have to be able to work in teams. I think UNT Dallas gives you the opportunity to learn to work in teams. You can talk to professors. You can see them when you have a question."

She hopes to graduate in December and start teaching soon afterward.

"This is my dream come true. If all those great teachers in the past helped me and inspired me to do what I'm doing now, I think being a teacher is one way I can give back; it will kind of reward what they have done with my life."


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