Interview with Lucia Rocha,

Founder of The Language and Literacy Collaborative, and Watsonville Native


By Olga Rosales Salinas

Founder of The Language and Literacy Collaborative, Lucia Rocha


It was 1990 and Lucia Rocha and I were neighbors, friends and creators of the most elaborate sandcastle in all of fifth grade, specifically in Mrs. Johnson's class at Amesti Elementary. I don't say that lightly - our castle had a moat, a draw bridge made from straws, plaster throughout, windows and staircases. Sure, some of the other sandcastles had working lights, but ours was the most creative by far (fight me). When I reached out to Rocha about what my sisters and I were doing with the Rosales Sisters' Scholarship, she inspired me with the program that she has started called The Language and Literacy Collaborative. Her path through higher education was equally impressive, but I have to say that I wasn't surprised. Lucia Rocha had big plans; first to make a positive impact in our community, and second to make sure that our sandcastle was the best sandcastle. Success.


Luckily for my sisters and I, she sat down with us to discuss her program and the changes she hopes to see in Watsonville through future R.S.S. campaigns. Read below for inspiration and to learn more about The Language and Literacy Collaborative.


About

Lucía Rocha-Nestler was a dual language teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years before joining the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She pioneered the implementation of a balanced approach to teaching literacy in Spanish in schools across the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Lucía has supported many dual language and bilingual schools and classrooms across the county. During her tenure as a teacher, she led many professional development opportunities for teachers across her district and beyond. She was a teacher, mentor and instructional coach working alongside both new and veteran teachers.


Lucía was also a faculty member at the Stanford Graduate School of Education STEP program, supporting bilingual teacher candidates in their development as early teachers. She holds a master’s degree in bilingual teaching and education from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Master of Education in Education Leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University.


Lucía enjoys working in dual language and bilingual schools and programs—thinking about how to grow language programs and literacy instruction to support bilingual and biliteracy. Her schools have made huge gains in both language and literacy achievement throughout the country.


She is the founder of I Love to Read in Spanish, an online source dedicated to curating and finding treasures in books for children in Spanish; and is the co-founder of The Language and Literacy Collaborative, an inclusive consulting team that believes in access for ALL learners and offers comprehensive support to ALL educators.


We were neighbors in the Mesa Verde neighborhood in Watsonville, CA. What was that experience like for you?

I had the best childhood experience. I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by extended family—and friends that were like family—in a place that felt safe and joyful. I spent hours outdoors with my cousins and friends. I learned how to ride a bicycle on a bicycle that was two sizes too tall for me, I learned how to make friendship bracelets, laughed all day long, and played hide and seek until it was too dark to see. I don’t remember being poor, although in retrospect, we didn’t have much financially but were wealthy in joy and experiences.

Tell us about your parents and their experiences.

My parents both worked in the fields. My dad claims to have a third grade education, but I don’t believe a man that incredibly intelligent only went to school for four years—the man who, despite coming home tired late each night, still spent some nights showing me how to solve multiplication problems by making groups with pinto beans. My mom was an amazing mother. I remember she would come home from working in the fields and go straight to work in the artichoke cannery. My parents, despite being gone a lot, were very present with us emotionally. I remember eating dinner with both of them every night.

My dad came to the US first. My mom and my older siblings would stay in Mexico until his season of work was over. He first came to work on the railroad system, and at some point in the late 70s was able to bring my mom, my older brother, and my sister over.

We’ve talked about how your siblings were already in college when you were growing up. What was that like for you?

That was interesting! I was in the 4th grade when my brother, Jesús, started college at UC Berkeley. I remember we all drove up to Berkeley, and I felt so sad that he had to live in such a crappy dorm room next to the People’s Park. Our neighborhood felt like the polar opposite of that! My sister left two years later. Having siblings in college felt normal. I think we all felt that not going to college was never an option: you went to school. You worked hard. You went to college.

The only thing we knew was that if we didn’t go to college, we'd be working with our mom and dad in the fields; and no one wanted to do that. I never thought about not going to college. I love (and loved) school. I love learning new things, and school was always a great place to be. I have zero negative memories of school—well maybe the stereotypical teenage girl woes—but nothing traumatic enough to matter.

We did not attend high school together, but if I’m remembering correctly, you went to Watsonville High and then to the private Monte Vista Christian School also in Watsonville. How were those experiences unique?

I think both experiences were really great, and also different. I felt like my experience at WHS was atypical. Not everyone was college-bound— thinking about how many AP and honors classes I had to take and how small those classes were at WHS has stuck with me. Monte Vista Christian was the opposite. At Monte Vista, we talked about college applications, what schools we were applying to, and about our top schools and about our backups. We talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up, what our dream careers were, and how we were going to get there. I loved being there. School was hard and demanding, and I thrived under those conditions.

Tell us about your college experience. What was that experience like for you?

I am so grateful for all of (my higher education) experiences. I wanted a small, community-centered college experience that replicated (the private) Monte Vista. I wanted small classes, and a place where I had a voice. I ended up at the University of San Diego, a small private liberal arts Catholic university. There I earned a BA in American Studies, which was the perfect balance of the past, the present and the future. Because of that experience I felt deeply connected to education and decided to apply to graduate school at UC Santa Cruz in their teaching credential program.

Education (is), for me, at least, the only way out of poverty. And I have loved my career choice of being a teacher, because it has allowed me to continue learning. I’ve never stopped. I’ve had amazing educational leaders in my life that really supported me along the way. Eventually, I ended up at Teachers College at Columbia University where I received a Masters of Education in Education Leadership while a mama of two amazing bilingual children of my own!

Let’s talk about The Language and Literacy Collaborative. When did you see the need for it?

I’ve always been a bilingual teacher—meaning I believe that families can give their children a good education without having to sacrifice their home language. Most everything in the field of education is centered around a monolingual perspective. So I thought, well, what if we could support teachers in helping them become better teachers of biliteracy? I put all that I knew and all that I was still learning, and L&L Collab was born. I now work with schools and teachers across the country and worldwide on teaching kids to become better readers and writers in two languages.

What are the LLC goals?

The LLC is composed of two individuals. I work and learn alongside my partner, Jen, who is not only the smartest person I know, but also the most kind and generous. We started the Collab with a few grounding ideas.

We arrive at each new school with the same understanding of who we are and what our values are as educators.

  • Education and literacy help break up systems of oppression and poverty. As educators, we are a part of this work. We are always learning and growing.

  • It’s our job to support and encourage kids in utilizing their entire language repertoire and to help them work across all languages.


  • We believe in access for all students. We value all forms of literacy, communication, and expression.


  • Students inform our teaching: teaching is not a curriculum/program.


  • As staff developers, it is our mission to collaborate with all teachers to further educational practices that uphold the above.


That’s it. Whether we’re beginning to plan for new work with teachers, or as we talk about what recent research we’ve done or conference we’ve attended, we start with grounding ourselves in what we believe and the reason for doing this work.


How far reaching is the program now?

I think collectively, this past year (a year like none other) we were inside of 40 different districts across the country. Washington State, Illinois, Texas, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Vermont, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, and Colorado. This year we are expecting to double that.

Where can our readers learn more about the programs you offer?

Here's our website!

Most of our work comes from word of mouth. From teachers who have heard of our work who then invite us into their schools. Or a friend of a friend who has done work with us. Or someone who saw our work somewhere. We will always lead our work with grace and admiration for teachers. We will never become a huge organization, it’s not what we’ve ever intended. Our work will always be meaningful, and we hope to leave a lasting impression on the schools, teachers and children whom we get to work with.

Thank you so much for sharing your program with us and your energy! If you were to address the first-generation or immigrant students from the Central Coast, what would you say?


Everything is possible. You have to work hard, and you have to ground yourself in the things that matter most to you. There are lots of people—like you and me—who want to help the newer generations thrive and be fruitful.


If you could address a potential RSS donor, what would you say?


Put your money where it matters most. We all have the choice of where to give our money, but in the end, what matters most is putting your money/time/energy in the things that will matter the most for people like us.


Follow Lucía on Twitter @chiagirl30 and Instagram @jenandlucia @ilovetoreadinspanish


If you would like to join us by donating to the Rosales Sisters' Scholarship, please do so here. Thank you for reading, donating and for helping us positively impact the lives of first-generation or immigrant students from the central coast.