Related professional experiences
Before immigrating to the United States almost 30 years ago, Luisiana Meléndez, PhD, grew up, attended college, and taught kindergarten in the Dominican Republic. Today, she feels part of the cultures of two very different countries and is influenced by her own experiences to understand how aspects of culture, from language to family childrearing customs, impact children’s growth and development, particularly in the early years.
“When I was a kindergarten teacher, I knew I wanted to contribute to the development of other early childhood educators,” she says. “Today, through teaching and advising Erikson students, it’s my job to help them become strong and effective professionals. ”
A faculty member at Erikson since 2007, she has a passion for ensuring educators are prepared to work with children and families in an increasingly diverse environment. In her classes on the Erikson campus and online, she provides a rigorous academic curriculum as well as opportunities for students to reflect on their own cultural backgrounds. Students’ personal experiences help shape the discussions, while lessons are frequently informed by her work in the field.
Her recent projects include participating in workgroups that address a new teacher candidate assessment in use throughout Illinois as well as other states. The assessment, while strong in some areas, has been criticized for giving little consideration to candidates’ and students’ linguistic diversity, a drawback in today’s multicultural world.
In addition to her work with current and future educators, Dr. Meléndez is particularly interested in how early care and education programs support emergent bilinguals between birth and age 3. Recently, she has been involved in a project that examines the views of administrators and practitioners regarding their work with young, emergent bilinguals and their families. Initial findings revealed that success in promoting bilingualism in early care and education settings was tied to clear language development goals that were shared by practitioners and families, and an understanding that bilingualism can be important for multicultural infants’ and toddlers’ social-emotional and cognitive development as well as an advantage later in life. Currently, Dr. Meléndez and a colleague are conducting an in-depth case study of an early care and education center that intentionally incorporates Spanish and English in program practices.
Dr. Meléndez also is collaborating on a long-term initiative that involves the administrators, teachers, and support staff of three early childhood centers in a large urban district. The project aims to help each program identify best practices for its work with linguistically diverse preschoolers and support administrators, teachers, and staff in the implementation and evaluation of these practices. The project is also intended to generate insights to inform district-wide practices in linguistically diverse preschool classrooms.