Rebecca Quiñones, a second-grade dual-language Spanish teacher at Ditmas Park’s P.S. 139, has been named an honoree on the International Literacy Association (ILA)’s 30 Under 30 list for 2021.
The list, released every other year, highlights young educators around the world creating positive change through increased literacy. This year’s honorees pursued that change through initiatives like opening a children’s library in an under-resourced Afghan valley, or empowering students in communities of color to find their writing voice.
Quiñones, 28, is not only bilingual herself — a requirement for all bilingual educators in the city, Sarah Casasnovas of the Department of Education told Bklyner over email — but a true leader, as well as an indispensable member of a robust team of dual language teachers.
“She’s an amazing teacher,” said Rachel Woolley, Quiñones’ colleague and fellow dual language teacher. Quiñones excels in every area of teaching, she said — an impressive feat, particularly for a younger teacher. “She really listens to other people, and she really is thoughtful about what the kids’ needs are — not just in her classroom, but globally.”
Woolley hopes Quiñones keeps teaching for a long time.
“I’m excited to see what she’ll do with her teaching career, and what other things she’ll do,” Woolley said. “Because whatever she does – she’s going to be amazing and do great things. She’s really a special, talented person.”
Quiñones — currently in her fourth year of teaching at P.S. 139 in Ditmas Park — is a Brooklyn native. She is part of her school’s dual-language team, a group of seven teachers who instruct students in all subject areas simultaneously in English and in Spanish.
Ditmas Park sits at the intersection of several neighborhoods, lending to an incredibly distinct linguistic profile, Quiñones explained.
“We have a very big Bangladesh[i] community, various different [Arab] communities, many Latino communities, some Asian [communities], many Caribbean.”
There are 558 citywide K-12 bilingual education programs across the city, including 157 in Brooklyn. Bilingual education programs are critical, Casasnovas told Bklyner, because they allow students to strengthen their abilities in their home or native language while building their social and academic English schools.
Growing up bilingual is something Quiñones is familiar with. She was raised partly by her Spanish-speaking grandparents, immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Outside of the home, she spent much of her time in the company of kids who spoke more than one language – Spanish, but also Russian and Chinese.
As a dual-language teacher, Quiñones said, her goal is to reaffirm the value of students’ native language, even as they become proficient in a second one.
These programs are especially critical for schools like P.S. 139, whose Hispanic student population now approaches half of the student body, according to DOE data.
Schools like P.S. 139 “adopt bilingual programs because they want to tell the children and their families, ‘what you have is valuable,’ and want to uplift it, and we want to celebrate it here,” she said. “And we want to do it by teaching in [your native] language — because teaching in your native language lets you know that it’s just as important as English.”
While Quiñones was “excited” about the ILA honor, she said, she asserted the fact that she’s far from the only one doing this kind of work.
“There are so many of us that are bilingual teachers in Brooklyn, and teachers that have been doing it for so long, and teachers that study it,” Quiñones said.
“I’m proud that I get to represent the group of women that do this kind of work. It’s not that what I do is unique and special — there’s a community of us that does this. It’s nice to see that one of us was highlighted.”