From an early age, Lorena Guillen felt a call to change the status quo of schooling. The Los Angeles native heard stories from family members who were scolded by their teachers and administrators for speaking Spanish in school.
Despite that treatment, her mother instilled the importance of education, and Guillen would go on to teach in a Los Angeles high school. Problems at the under-resourced school soon surfaced however.
“I quickly realized that a lot of the problems in my classroom and my school were a lot bigger than what I had control over,” Guillen said. “I always found that students and I had a good time in the classroom but structural and systemic inequities, a lot of politics, school finance issues; those things all affected the way our classroom was resourced and the way others saw us.”
Her school suffered from a constant turnover of teachers, Guillen said, leaving it largely bereft of seasoned educators. Six years after Guillen arrived at the troubled school, the state mandated that it be reinvented into a series of career-themed academies.
That experience led Guillen to the University of Washington College of Education to pursue her PhD, in hopes of helping other schools create solutions to the problems that plagued her former high school.
As a doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, she’s focused on the relationship between communities and schools and the ways each can inform and strengthen the other. Part of her dissertation focuses on the interaction and discussion between pre-service teachers and community mentors.
“When I went into teacher education studying for my doctorate here, one of the projects that I was working on with my adviser and a team of doc students was to figure out how to partner with local community members and our teacher education program,” Guillen said.
Upon completion of her PhD, she hopes to continue doing work that closes the gap between communities and schools.
“That has been some of the most sustaining, fulfilling and challenging work that I have done," Guillen said. "It’s all very much informed from my experience teaching as well as being a student.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications