When Kristin Alvarado noticed her third-grade students struggling to read, she took matters into her own hands by enrolling in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program at UTA.
"By the time they get to third grade, there's not a lot of time to try to fill in those gaps before you're moving on to the next thing," she said. "So, I decided I wanted to better myself as a reading teacher and, therefore, benefit my students. This was the program I felt would help me be a better teacher and reach my students in a better way."
Alvarado, who is in her 14th year as an educator, teaches at Bishop Elementary, a Title 1 school in Everman, Texas. One of her former co-workers, Melissa Fambrough, is an alumna of the UTA online M.Ed. in C&I – Literacy Studies program and recommended it to her.
"Melissa gave me some insight," Alvarado said. "I knew it was what I wanted to do. I had no desire to do administration or anything like that. I wanted something with reading. Earning a master's was something I had in the back of my mind for a while."
The online format was key for Alvarado to squeeze school into her busy life. She and her husband, Homero, have three children — Gabriel (15), Nicholas (13) and Sofia (5).
"It's been a little crazy," she said. "My two boys are in select baseball. I like the flexibility of being able to take my work and my laptop wherever I am versus being tied to a specific classroom schedule. That's been very helpful."
Since Alvarado enrolled at UTA, her family has been a solid support system. She plans to complete the program in 18 months to graduate in December 2019.
"I'm lucky that my husband helps me out a lot with juggling everything," she said. "My parents help out a lot, too. My kids think it's kind of cool that mom's in school."
Change of Plans
Alvarado, who is originally from Elberton, Georgia, initially wanted to major in psychology and work with children. Instead, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from UTA in 2005.
"My very first semester, they sent me to a court hearing at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth," she said. "Seeing true mental illness first hand, I decided I still wanted to work with kids, but maybe in a way I could reach them before they get that far off. That led me to teaching."
For the first 10 years of Alvarado's career as an educator, she taught at a charter school in Arlington. She also had a stint in Grand Prairie before coming to Everman two years ago. The online M.Ed. in C&I — Literacy Studies curriculum has been applicable to her job from the outset.
"I use it a lot in my classroom when I'm teaching my students. When I took my research class, which was probably the hardest one I took, I had a student who was struggling," said Alvarado who ended up sharing one of her own struggles as a student with her young charge. "I was able to let her know that I'm still learning, too, and education is important. I talk a lot about that with my students. They think it's cool."
Alvarado spends between 10 and 12 hours a week on two courses per term. LIST 5354: Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults is Alvarado's favorite course in the program curriculum, so far.
"It was the first course that I took," she said. "It opened my eyes and taught me how much I didn't know about children's books and the history of diversity in literature. It was amazing."
Alvarado plans to celebrate the accomplishment of completing a master's degree by walking in a UTA commencement ceremony for the second time. However, she should be much more comfortable this time around.
"I was pregnant with Nicholas when I walked the first time," she said. "He's kind of been through both journeys with me."
For now, Alvarado plans to continue using the knowledge she is gaining in the master's degree program to help her students properly prepare to move on to fourth grade.
"If I eventually leave the classroom, I would like to be a reading specialist working with kids who are struggling in the classroom," she said. "But I like being in the classroom right now. This degree will definitely help create job opportunities."
Alvarado believes preparation is the key to success in adding an online degree program to a busy life.
"It needs to be what you want to do," she said. "It will take a lot of your free time. You won't have much of a life while you're doing the program. I have to make the time and be organized. I make sure I have a calendar and list out all of my assignments for the week. I keep track of my due dates because they overlap.
"I go into it with the perspective that it's a choice I made to make myself better. It's something I enjoy doing. The program takes a lot of time management, but it is definitely worth it."
Learn more about the UTA M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program.
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