Challenging Generation Next: Alexandra Arango ‘01

by Marjorie Smith

For Alexandra Arango, limitations and socially-imposed boundaries are unfamiliar territories. Perhaps this explains why she so prizes the peacefulness found in a vast Arizona desert sky.

Shortly after her graduation last year, Alex joined Teach for America and relocated to Phoenix, where she had the opportunity to lend her skills to a dual-language program that encourages kindergarten students to be bilingual and bi-literate.

“I love working with kids, and I enjoy being a kid with them. To both witness and play an important role in their growth is tremendously rewarding. To see some of them reading and writing at the end of the school year is tremendously uplifting. Teaching is also a valuable learning experience for me. When I break things down for the kids, I’m also forced to break things down for myself, and this helps me to stop and think clearly and simply.”

Despite feeling initially challenged last year by her lack of training as a kindergarten teacher, she is enthusiastic about the new school year.

“Last year was tough because I had to first learn what to do, and then I had to learn how to do it. I’m much more comfortable this year,” she admits with confidence.

Alex also admits to particularly enjoying teaching small children because “they are so full of life; they have such great spirits.”

However, for social activist Alex, it’s equally important that her students’ growth is not limited to academics.

“In the classroom, I try always to encourage empowerment, tolerance, social justice and equality. I want my students—even at this early age—to look beyond traditional images, gender roles, and stereotypes and explore how these ideas are easily redefined. Children create images and ideas when they are small, and I want to help them create images that avoid stereotypes and encourage critical, independent thinking.”

Looking beyond her current assignment with Teach for America, Alex is already deciding on her next adventure: a doctoral program that will combine all of her academic, personal, and professional interests.

“While I am still considering a number of schools and programs, I’m particularly interested in Notre Dame’s economic development program, which I believe will allow me to continue to work addressing issues of poverty and developing countries and ultimately may lead to teaching opportunities at the university level.”

“I feel very privileged,” she confides, “and I intend to give back.”

For now, though, in addition to teaching full time, Alex is completing the course-work for a masters degree in education at Arizona State University. Having worked almost full time while earning a dual major in economics, and politics and international relations at Scripps, Alex is accustomed to balancing the rigors of school, work, and a personal life. When asked about the remarkable commitment and dedication displayed in her accomplishments, she nonchalantly states, “At Scripps, I learned to work hard and give my all. I continue to give may all,and my all is big!”

At Scripps, Alex’s all certainly was big. A dual citizen of the United States and Columbia, Alex took every opportunity to available to her to research, investigate, and participate in the socio-economic development of the south American country, from her thesis work on the legitimacy of political movements in Columbia to becoming part of the Witness of Peace program. And, as part of that organization’s 2001 delegation to Columbia, Alex was able to witness first-hand many of the economic and political changes taking place there.

This summer, she was able to return to Columbia for a vacation and was excited to report a rising pride among the native people.

Filled with that optimism, she explains: “There is a hopefulness among the Columbian people that was not there previously, even when I was there a year ago. It was palpable feeling that news reports do not and cannot convey. I really believe that things are looking up for Columbia! I predict a significant change for the better within the next fifteen years.”

And if Alex Arango has her way, she’ll be a part of that change.