Veronica Romero had plans to walk with her peers at the Washington State University Tri-Cities commencement this spring. But like many others, Romero had to put those plans on hold.

Like thousands of college students across the country, she transitioned to online learning and had to forego the in-person classroom experiences that she enjoys as a future teacher.

But she didn’t let those things phase her. Have there been challenges? Sure. Does she miss the face-to-face interactions with her professors and peers? Definitely. But with the challenges, she said, have come many opportunities.

Romero is using her time during COVID-19 to study to become a full-time teacher a bit earlier than planned.  The young single mom of two is teaching her own kids at home while completing the rest of her classes online, a time that she truly cherishes. And she has used the move to online learning to brush up on educational tools and technology that are sure to be the future of K-12 education, or at least important components.

“It has been a bit of a difficult transition because the WSU Tri-Cities education program is normally really hands-on people-focused and student centered,” she said. “But with the transition to distance learning, we are also encouraged to rely on our own technology and use that technology for good.”

As educational technology is a growing field, she said the switch to online learning has helped educate her and her peers on what many teachers will use in the future. She said they rely on different platforms for learning, including videos, interactive media and collaborating more on Zoom breakout sessions.

“It has been hard stepping away from student-centered, hands-on learning, but it’s also been an opportunity to grow our knowledge in these ed tech tools and resources,” she said.

Romero said her fifth-grade teacher Jean Kilian and high school leadership teacher Dave Martinez originally inspired her to go into a career in education. Once she began her job as a paraeducator, she was further inspired by MaryBeth Zins, a teacher she worked with that made the classroom “magical” for students.

Veronica Romero poses for a photo with her children.
Since the transition to online instruction this spring, Romero has enjoyed bringing those practices into her home when teaching her kids full-time while completing her semester online.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I want to do that,” she said.

She started looking at education programs and found WSU Tri-Cities to be a good fit. She initially started out in the alternate route program, which provides paraeducators the opportunity to combine their proven classroom experiences with courses where they earn a bachelor’s in education with an English language learning or special education endorsement in two years.

While she loved the program, she missed the immersive full-time student experience. So she transitioned out of the alternate route program and into the traditional education bachelor’s program at WSU Tri-Cities, pursuing her bachelor’s with an endorsement in English language learning.

“It was difficult because I had to step away from being a provider first and from evening classes to being a full-time student, but it was the best decision for me as a teacher and as a student,” she said. “Much more room for making connections.”

Romero said she particularly enjoys the focus that the WSU Tri-Cities College of Education and her professors place on diversity, cultural awareness and teaching with cultural relevancy.

“When I was going through school, there wasn’t as much awareness about Spanish-speaking students and there was a gap because there wasn’t really culturally-relevant teaching,” she said. “WSU’s education program really focuses on whole student-driven education and the diversity in our communities, especially in central and eastern Washington and making it equitable. They are really forward thinking. There is a focus on research and bridging those gaps that we now know exist.”

Since the transition to online instruction this spring, Romero has enjoyed bringing those practices into her home when teaching her kids full-time while completing her semester online. She said she regularly utilizes strategies and practices with her kids that she is currently learning about through her classes.

“It’s cool because while my daughter works on her homework, I get to share what I’m learning as a teacher first-hand,” she said. “My daughter is also really into social issues, even at 10 years old. I get to bring home my class material from my political science class and share that with her. It’s been really fun and she really enjoys it.”

Romero’s kids have also noticed a difference in learning styles and have grown to have a new respect for their regular public school teachers. She said her kids see the day-to-day prep that goes into preparing for lessons and observes her teaching strategies in action.

“They have a different appreciation for their teachers,” she said.

Romero now has one semester left before finishing her education degree, but said she can’t wait to begin her life as a full-time teacher locally in either her hometown of Sunnyside or somewhere else regionally in the mid-Columbia area in Washington state.

“I currently substitute teach in Sunnyside and I have a really great connection with the community that we serve, but I’m also open to serving the community wherever there is a need,” she said.

Romero said she plans to put the culturally-relevant teaching practices she has gained through the WSU Tri-Cities College of Education to good use. She plans to use the leadership skills she gained through WSU to use through preparing the region’s future leaders as a teacher. Additionally, she plans to pursue her master’s degree in education.

“I have always wanted to be a Coug,” she said. “Cougs lead the way, and that is what I will take away from WSU as a whole – it’s that WSU culture of leading. Specifically what I have taken from the education program, is what it is to be a leader and continue innovating in the way that we teach, the way that we communicate and the way that we connect and collaborate. You should strive to be a positive agent for change in society, and especially in the education system as a teacher.”

Romero is one of several thousand graduating students from WSU across the state who participated in a first-ever WSU systemwide graduation celebration at 10 a.m. May 9. A recording of the celebration can be viewed at experience.wsu.edu.