S is for sun, spelling and success
By Lynn Gosnell
Sitting at a child-size table in San Antonio Academy’s (SAA) Enrichment Center, UIW senior Veronica Guerrero exudes a level of confidence and enthusiasm that belies her student status. Her class is a group of children, ages 4-6, enrolled in the program’s Early Bird Reading class.
A pig-tailed student named Abby takes a seat next to Guerrero for some one-on-one work. “There’s our phonogram for today. It’s ng as in ring,” Guerrero says, as Abby reads from a lesson. Next, Guerrero flips through a deck of flash cards while Abby sight reads the words—until she gets to the word "then." When her students get stuck, Guerrero is ready with a sound-it-out tip.
“T-H makes your tongue stick out,” explains Guerrero, as Abby slowly sounds out the word, a look of concentration on her face. “S-H makes the quiet sound,” she adds. “Shhhh. Or. Shore,” says Abby, pronouncing the final word slowly, as if she might be picturing sea and sand in her mind.
Wednesday afternoon’s reading class is just one of dozens of afterschool and weekend enrichment classes offered by San Antonio Academy’s Enrichment Department and Reading Institute, where Guerrero has worked as a teaching assistant for the past six years. The 27-year-old Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCaP) student will soon complete her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a certification in K–5th grade education.
When she graduates in August, Guerrero will not only have achieved a milestone in her education, she will also have the distinction of being an experienced classroom teacher.
Senior ADCaP student Veronica Guerrero helps a San Antonio Academy Early Bird Reading student sound out words.
Dr. Paul Pellikka, an adjunct education professor who teaches ADCaP students, says that Guerrero stands out among her peers as “especially destined for the field of education.” He values Guerrero’s ability to contribute real-life examples from her own teaching experience to enrich the theoretical discussions that take place in the college classroom.
“She is immensely and personally concerned with all the children that she deals with in her teaching position,” Pellikka says.
A 2000 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School, Guerrero arrived at the University of the Incarnate Word’s ADCaP program after, as she describes it, “wandering around classes” at San Antonio College. Though she did not complete her associate degree, she earned a one-year certification in early childhood development, which allowed her to seek positions in child-care settings.
When she applied for an after-school care position with San Antonio Academy’s Enrichment Department, Director Cathy Cummins saw great potential in this bright, personable young woman. Cummins became a mentor to Guerrero, not only guiding her professional development, but also strongly encouraging her to complete her undergraduate degree. When Veronica expressed an interest in going to school while working, Cummins immediately thought of the University of the Incarnate Word.
"I had many friends, colleagues and former students who graduated from Incarnate Word, and I knew it had a wonderful reputation for caring for its students," Cummins says.
Guerrero recalls her encouragement. “She said, ‘You can do it. Just apply, and things will fall into place.’ I really just wanted to be a teacher,” Guerrero says. “After I came to the Academy and saw the great program they have here, it inspired me to continue.”
Since 2004, Guerrero has been enrolled in the ADCaP program as an education major while working full time at San Antonio Academy. At the Academy, she teaches a variety of classes and also helps Cummins organize special academic programs and festivals for the SAA student body. Most weekends, Guerrero can be found at the academy teaching in the popular weekend enrichment program.
“She’s a master teacher,” Cummins says. “She knows how to take control of the classroom in a good way, engage the children and then teach.”
All this activity on behalf of reading and literacy has not gone unnoticed. Last May, she was awarded the UIW Literacy Award from the Dreeben School of Education. Students are nominated for this award by professors in the teacher education program. Guerrero's work at San Antonio Academy "demonstrated a strong understanding and ability to implement instructional objectives and student focused strategies that promoted literacy development," said Dr. Elda Martinez, the director of teacher education.
Guerrero works with students using letter tubs to teach them about words beginning with each letter.
In the fall, Guerrero received the Harriet Marmon Helmle Scholarship from San Antonio Youth Literacy, an organization that promotes literacy skills for San Antonio’s at-risk youth. The $2,500 scholarship comes with an obligation to devote one hour each week as a tutor.
Every Thursday, Guerrero serves as a volunteer reading tutor for two second-graders, a boy and a girl, at Knox Elementary in San Antonio Independent School District. Working with low-income students holds a special place in Guerrero’s heart.
“I love it!” she says. Noting that many of these children don’t have personal libraries or opportunities to read aloud, she believes fervently in the need for better reading skills. “In Texas, our illiteracy rate is extremely high. And this affects all economic groups.”
Back in her reading class, she gathers a group of wiggly children around for work with letter tubs. Each clear plastic container has a letter on top and miniature items inside that begin with the letter. One by one, each child chooses a container and names all the items inside, while “Miss Veronica” assists them by using gestures or making noises like the object. When a child named Sofie picks a seal out of the S tub, her teacher barks like a seal. When she pulls out a sun, Guerrero starts to sing, “Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me,” bringing a big grin to the eager student’s face.