Fully Emersed

Bilingual elementary school teacher empowers students

By Jessica Laskey
October 2022

For Miguel Perez, being bilingual is like having a superpower.

“I like to remind my students that it’s a gift being able to read, write and speak in two languages,” says Perez, a fifth-grade teacher at the Language Academy of Sacramento, a public charter school near Stockton Boulevard and Broadway that offers bilingual education in English and Spanish.

“The students in the community we’re serving have parents that are English learners, so the benefit is they’re able to apply bilingualism in multiple settings. They can help translate for family members or in the real world. I’ve had students who’ve helped translate for someone at a checkout line who was having a hard time communicating. There’s a lot of power behind that.”

Perez has spent almost 10 years empowering his students through bilingual instruction in reading, writing, math, social studies and science.

The Language Academy uses a dual-immersion model, which means students start in kindergarten with 90-percent instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English, followed by 10 percent more English each year as they age through the grades. By the time they get to Perez in fifth grade, instruction is half Spanish, half English.

“We like to serve the community we’re in first, so we have English learners but also students from families who speak only English at home who are looking to learn Spanish,” Perez says.

Perez didn’t intend to get into bilingual education, but he always wanted to be a teacher. Growing up in Elk Grove, Perez’s elementary school teachers inspired him to pursue a career in the classroom.

“I had really good teachers as mentors and role models, specifically my fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, who really went above and beyond to connect with me,” Perez says. “They’d invite me to stay after school to help set up, like a little assistant. I wanted to be that type of teacher for my students.”

At Sacramento State, Perez earned a bachelor’s degree and immediately applied for a teaching credential. During the process, Perez mentioned he spoke Spanish and was placed in the bilingual credentialing program.

“I hadn’t even considered doing bilingual education—Sac State decided for me,” Perez says. “But I started to learn about the world of bilingual education and got really interested. I didn’t practice Spanish much outside of my family, so it was exciting to think that maybe I could use it professionally.”

Perez was placed at the Language Academy for one year of student teaching and fell in love with the kids and the community. He loved how everyone was “practicing and growing, both students and teachers” and the strong communication with student families.

The affection was mutual. The school offered Perez a job and he’s been there ever since, teaching fourth grade for nine years and fifth grade this past year to move up with the fourth-graders he taught on Zoom during pandemic closures.

Perez’s dedication has brought acolytes and accolades. He won ABC10’s Teacher of the Month award, which highlights local teachers making a difference and includes a $1,000 prize from SchoolsFirst credit union.

“I was definitely caught off guard when I got the email from ABC, but I agreed to the interview,” the Alkali Flat resident says. “I’m a very shy person, but I figured I’m being recognized for something I love to do, which is great.”
Perez used the prize money to take a trip to Spain in July to meet his boyfriend’s family. The award helped him reconnect with his beloved fifth-grade teacher, one of his biggest role models.

“She mailed me a card when she found out about the award,” Perez says. “The fact that this person who inspired me to become a teacher saw me get this award is very heartwarming. It really came full circle.”

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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