By Crystale Lopez
Alejandra “Ale” Barraza ’05 MAT, principal of SAISD’s Carroll Early Childhood Education Center, has set a precedence for herself to carry on the movement of great teaching and support to the community that all began for her at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW).
“My undergraduate degree is in business, it was through my master’s at UIW that I became an educator,” Barraza said. “I went into the field of early childhood education because of my professor and mentor Dr. [Mary Ruth] Moore.”
Moore, professor of teacher education at UIW, also encouraged Barraza to pursue her doctorate degree through the University of Texas at Austin since UIW does not currently have a Ph.D. program related to early childhood education.
“I knew the moment I met Ale that she was going to do great things,” Moore shared. “What is so special about her completing her Ph.D. at UT Austin is she has won the Joe and Betty Frost Endowed Presidential Scholarship for two years in a row, and Dr. Frost was actually my mentor professor when I attended UT.”
As a graduate student at UIW, Barraza also worked alongside Moore to set up play and literacy conferences the Frosts helped sponsor, and assisted with the setup for the opening of the Joe L. Frost Play Research Collection at the Mabee Library in 2004.
“We have had a longstanding relationship with Dr. Frost – he is known all over the world for his 50 year career in children’s play, play environments, and education,” Moore explained. “For us to be able to receive his entire research collection of textbooks, articles, and other materials, was a huge vote of confidence in UIW.”
Barraza said it has been significant in her education and career to see how much teachers and professors really influence others and now hopes to encourage more people by speaking up about play in all aspects of children’s development.
“I loved teaching for SAISD, so when I became principal at Carroll, it was extra special for me,” Barraza said. “Not only am I in the central place where it all begins for the children, but I have had the opportunity to build on the work of a fellow UIW graduate.”
Sandy Chavarria ’85 MEd, now director of the North Education Center of Pre-K 4 SA, held the position as principal of Carroll when the center opened in 2009. “Sandy did a wonderful job, and now Ale has gone on to take it to the next step,” Moore said. “When you walk into Carroll, everything you see is age and developmentally appropriate and promotes all her children having opportunities.”
So, in the spring of 2014 when Dr. Jeff Crane, associate dean of the UIW College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, was looking for the opportunity to take a community vegetable garden out into the city of San Antonio, Moore knew exactly who to call.
“Dr. Moore shared the great idea of creating a reading garden for the kids, giving them a dynamic and versatile way to learn outside of the classroom,” Barraza said. “She and Dr. Crane both recruited their students to come out and help plant the vegetable garden with the children.”
Crane, an environmentalist and environmental historian, stressed the importance of “re-greening” the city and helping others learn how to produce food for themselves in a way that builds pride, is better for their health, and improves their quality of life.
“Gardening never fails – the children, the student volunteers – we all loved it,” he said. “There is that positive experience of being outside, planting and growing food. We talked about the plants, where they come from and what it grows into.”
Moore later took her Instruction and Assessment class back to Carroll to dedicate a Peter Rabbit statue to the garden, complete with a small jacket made by UIW student Megan Wellington. “We did a lesson on Peter Rabbit with the children that included reading them a story, singing a song, performing a finger puppet play, and we taught them the parts of the plant,” Moore shared. “Throughout the year different students go back to Carroll and volunteer in the garden, and with the children.”
Kaime Roe, a UIW student in the Interdisciplinary Studies degree program for elementary (early childhood-grade six), had the privilege of helping with the vegetable garden at Carroll from the beginning and taking part in the Peter Rabbit lesson.
“We transformed a barren courtyard into a place where true, hands-on discovery learning could occur for pre-kinder children,” Roe said. “It was a rewarding experience to then go back and be able to teach children in such an authentic setting.”
Roe, who was also honored as a Joe L. Frost Play Advocate at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the research collection in March 2014, said she feels her involvement at Carroll is vital in living the Mission at UIW.
“One of the pillars of the Mission is education,” she explained. “I seek to educate the masses by taking the things I have learned at the university, in their amazing education program, to help kids move on to become successful citizens which makes us all have a better world tomorrow.”
Barraza said it is truly an ongoing partnership with Carroll and UIW. “Dr. Moore, Dr. Crane, and their students have been wonderful and so helpful,” she said. “You always have that feeling that everyone at UIW is there to help each other.”
“This all goes back to the Sisters of Charity when they came to San Antonio to help set up schools and hospitals – it was all about providing opportunities to others,” Moore said. “That is what we, the faculty, students, and our alumni are trying to do, continue helping San Antonio be a place where everyone deserves the best education.”
Barraza said UIW has given her so much and she would, one day, like to go back and share what she has learned with others.
“I hope to finish my Ph.D. program this year, and one of my future goals is to teach at UIW,” Barraza shared.
“Dr. Frost influenced Dr. Moore, and Dr. Moore influenced me. I want to impact others and continue what has become a domino effect of great teaching.”
Learn more about Carroll Early Childhood Education Center by visiting www.saisd.net/schools/carroll240/