Emigrating from Mexico at the young age of 15 gives Magali Valdez-Robles empathy for her 24 students at Felton’s Family Developmental Center (FDC), a Mission Promise Neighborhood partner. Valdez-Robles came to the U.S. to study English – a need for most of the 4- and 5-year-olds in her dual-language preschool classroom primarily serving Latino children.

This is a job at which the social advocate thrives, and why she was honored last night with a “Preschool for All Excellence in Teaching Award” from First 5 SF. This well-deserved accolade arose from a nomination by the Leadership team at Felton. (Watch video.)

Speaking of her “Preschool for All Excellence in Teaching Award,” Valdez-Robles (photo, right) humbly exclaims, ”I wasn’t expecting this award. I always tell my supervisor that I may not be the best teacher, but I really care if my students and families succeed. There are many great teachers out there, so this is an honor.”

Felton Preschool Program Supervisor Phyllis Hogan knows of the caliber of Valdez-Robles’ work, stating “Magali Valdez Robles is committed to providing a classroom environment that views all children through the lens as learners who are competent, skillful and intelligent. Magali values and respects all childrens’ home language and culture. The Bumble Bee classroom is one of our dual-language classrooms at the Family Developmental Center, where you will see and hear this in action.  Magali  is committed to support kindergarten readiness for our preschoolers. As a ‘Teacher of Excellence,’ Magali aims to ensure children have the skills and social emotional readiness for kindergarten.”

Valdez-Robles is a model teacher with one goal: to make sure every child under her auspices is kindergarten ready. Located in the Mission District and serving over 85 percent of the Latino community, Felton’s FDC is one of San Francisco’s largest  inclusive early care and education program serving children age birth to 6 years old. For the past 45 years, FDC has been serving children with physical and developmental disabilities, offering a broad range of on-site specialized services in the child’s natural environment, with typically developing peers. Felton serves approximately 230 families, of which 30 percent of the children being served have identified special needs, ranging from speech and language or developmental delays including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, just to name a few.

All of FDC’s work is rooted in the belief of inclusion. FDC believes that an inclusive classroom offers high-quality early childhood experiences and instruction is meaningful and builds upon the interests of the children, plus is developmentally appropriate, responsive and inquiry based. Providing an inclusive environment means addressing children’s needs through an individualized approach, while focusing on social, emotional, physical and cognitive aspects of learning.

That means tackling the challenge of focusing on social, emotional, physical and cognitive aspects of learning. A big piece of the puzzle is Valdez-Robles connecting with parents to make sure that they are on the same page as far as the child’s development.

It is Valdez-Robles’ job to meet these challenges and help students succeed.

A model creating impact
During her time at FDC over the last two years, Valdez-Robles has helped many families via the teacher-based model for dual-language students. This means that throughout the day one teacher speaks only Spanish, while another one speaks only English. This method is used to help strengthen children’s skills in both languages, while still allowing all students to be exposed to both. While many families want their child to learn English only, Valdez-Robles counsels parents about the value of students being bilingual.

Consistency in a dual-language learner program is important. The center has worked to create a flow for children who participate in the DLL classrooms. After leaving the Rainbow Room, children who enter the Butterflies classroom are part of the DLL cohort and will follow the flow until they are ready to leave FDC and start kindergarten. This consistency ensured that each child has the opportunity to strengthen their home language and a second language before leaving the program. (See model).

Valdez-Robles works daily to create a classroom environment where all students can thrive, despite their challenges. Impact has been powerful and swift. Valdez-Robles recently had a child experiencing great difficulty maintaining focus in class, with this student exhibiting disruptive behaviors. The educator noticed that their was a high need, especially since this child had only a few months left to graduate. That’s when she turned to a social-emotional component to combat the challenging behaviors the student exhibited; she worked with the classroom team and internal support systems to develop an individualized Positive Behavior Support plan.

For preschoolers who exhibit challenging behavior, the teaching staff conduct Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and how to approach challenging behavior using Positive Behavior Support. By collecting Behavior Observation Reports, for example, teachers are able to identify the function of the child’s behavior and how to create plans that can effectively prevent, address and change negative behavior to become more socially appropriate and more effective when communicating.

Valdez-Robles explains, “I was very concerned about this child. I wanted to ensure this student will go to the right school to get the services they needed and the supports for the family. It took a couple of months to have everyone on the same page as to how to best support the child. Part of the challenge was working with the family to agree to partner with us and be on the same page. As many of the families deal with multiple risks factors, this particular family was going through a hard time. I worked with many people at various agencies to remedy this situation. There were many obstacles to success, but a community effort changed this child’s life for the better.”

The good news is that Valdez-Robles formidable effort translated to the student becoming part of a bilingual kindergarten class, with the services offered that were needed by the youngster and the family.

When the student’s mother recently saw Valdez-Robles on the street, she gave the educator a big hug, smiled from ear to ear and stated, “Gracias, maestra. Mi hijo es muy inteligente.” (Thank you, teacher. My child is very intelligent.”)

Valdez-Robles could see how proud the mother was of her child, so she also smiled.

One other success story was around test scores. SFUSD mandates that all students take a kinder-ready test to determine if they recognize shapes, letters and numbers. Valdez-Robles was so proud when one child obtained a 100 percent score. This child’s English was very limited at first, but she aced the test … with her teacher’s invaluable support and dedication.

Another impactful item is that lately Valdez-Robles’ students have been getting their first choice of schools in San Francisco — no easy task. The top five elementary schools into which FDC is feeding are Buena Vista, Leonard R. Flynn, Alvarado, Bryant and Cesar Chavez (Cesar Chavez and Bryant are the two elementary schools that are part of the Mission Promise Neighborhood.)

The future
Valdez-Robles loves her job. As she cherishes the happiness of others, she remains honored to help families succeed by connecting with each other. That’s because Valdez-Robles strongly believes that family is the foundation for any type of success in life.

As a model for the community, Valdez-Robles is gearing up to further her own education. The goal now is to obtain a Master’s degree in counseling and psychology, with a concentration in community mental health. This is a three-year program and will take determination for someone with a full-time job teaching at FDC.

There is no doubt Valdez-Robles will succeed, just like the students she inspires every day.

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About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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