By Jillian Daley
The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Learning Disabilities awarded a Portland State University College of Education (COE) graduate the Marva Collins Diversity Award at a conference earlier this month in Portland.
“I am deeply honored to receive the Marva Collins Award,” winner Gloria Alonso said.
“To be recognized by the DLD, Council for Exceptional Children for work on something as important as diversity is very special.”
Alonso works as a special education learning specialist at Portland Public School’s pre-kindergarten to eighth grade Faubion School in Northeast Portland’s Concordia community. In 2013, Alonso earned her Master of Special Education in the COE’s BiSped Program, which was a five-year grant (2008-2013) from the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to support preservice special educators to better meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families in special education programs, explained Julie Esparza Brown, Ph.D., an associate professor in the COE. BiSped worked in partnership with several local school districts.
The Division for Learning Disabilities is one of the special interest groups of the Council for Exceptional Children, which is an international professional organization that aims to improve outcomes for exceptional students, such as those with disabilities and the gifted. The Marva Collins Diversity Award annually recognizes a special education teacher “who makes a significant impact in the education of children and youths with learning disabilities who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”
“It is really humbling to receive the award and it is inspiring for my future career,” Alonso said. “I am grateful to the professors at PSU and especially in the BiSped program for giving me the skills, knowledge, and confidence to work in a field that lacks diversity. This award is not about me, but it is about my mentors, like Dr. Esparza Brown and Dr. [Sheldon] Loman [both in the COE], among others, for all they are doing to increase diversity in the Sped [special education] departments.”
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Alonso is bilingual in English and Spanish. She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, launching her teaching career in 2003 with an internship at West Columbia Elementary School in Texas.
“Having found my true calling in education, I started working at Portland Public Schools as a learning center teacher,” said Alonso, who transitioned to her current role after obtaining her master’s through the BiSped Program. “Since then, I have created parent workshops to educate the parents and community in a variety of special education issues.”
One of Alonso’s passions is advocating for students, families, and community members who are non-English speakers. This passion has earned her accolades before, and she was recognized by the School Board in 2017 for her support of her students and school. She is also one to seek the road less traveled, and it has assuredly made a difference for herself and others. Also in 2017, she sought support for her students from Dogs for Better Lives, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs as autism assistance dogs, hearing dogs, or facility dogs that support professionals.
“I believe that non-traditional strategies and tools are needed for our new generation of students,” she said.
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