Bienvenido a Puerto Rico: Training Teachers on the Island

By Jeff Nazzaro

When the Department of Education for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico contracted with Betances Professional Services and Equipment to train their credentialed Early Childhood Education teachers as part of a push to mainstream transitional kindergarten across the island, Betances first needed a partner to train their trainers. They turned to UCR University Extension. Located in California, the only state in the U.S. with a large, publicly funded transitional kindergarten program, UCR University Extension stood out. The institution’s ready bilingual capacity was another big plus. But what sealed the deal was that the eight-course program leads to a UCR University Extension Professional Certificate in Teaching Transitional Kindergarten that can be applied towards a Master’s in Education, with a Specialization in Transitional Kindergarten from California Baptist University.

“Puerto Rico was trying to get a TK program up and running…”

Multicultural kindergarten kids sitting on the floor asking questions with their teacher “They were very interested because we offer the courses in English and Spanish,” said Dr. Guillermina Hernandez, UCR University Extension’s Academic Director for Child and Adolescent Development, who conducted the training sessions along with Kassandra Dorado, a credentialed transitional kindergarten teacher who works for the Palm Springs Unified School District, and was able to demonstrate specific examples from California’s transitional kindergarten curriculum as they are currently being implemented. “The reason they decided to go with us is because our certificate leads into a Master’s program. At that time, Puerto Rico did not have a transitional kindergarten program, and they were trying to get one up and running. They wanted to hear information about how we are doing it in California. That’s why taking a credentialed teacher in transitional kindergarten on that trip was a great idea, because she could share information on that firsthand.”

Betances Project Director Rosangela Otero and President Claudia Agudelo praised Guillermina for the expertise she represented and the openness she brought to the partnership from the start. “We had this opportunity to provide training for teachers in early childhood education,” Rosangela said. “Specifically, we needed to prepare them for transitional kindergarten, which is something California has. We said, ‘Why don’t we try to contact an educational institution in California so we can learn how to provide that experience and education and best practices from people that know better?”

“The team trained over 800 kindergarten teachers in 7 education districts…”

In fulfilling that mission, Guillermina and Kassandra traveled to Puerto Rico and instructed 30 teacher trainers in a five-hour intensive session held at Betances’s headquarters in Bayamon. From there, the trainers spread out across the island, giving over 800 kindergarten teachers in all seven education districts a primer in California’s transitional kindergarten. Whereas most children begin kindergarten at age 5, transitional kindergarten serves children who are 3 and 4 years old.

“Betances’s trainers were there to learn about our program and compare it to what they are offering out in Puerto Rico, because transitional kindergarten was so new to them,” said Guillermina. “They wanted to hear from us how we structure it, what’s been working, what’s not been working. It was really exciting to them because we have a lot to share—everything from our certificates to our curriculum. It was very interactive. It was a great training.”

Rosangela said the evaluations they received from the participants were very good and that the Director of Early Childhood Education for Puerto Rico was extremely pleased with the results. “This opened the door for us to provide certification in social and emotional development in early childhood education,” said Rosangela, who noted that of the more than 800 kindergarten teachers who participated, 128—a number severely limited by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic—completed the entire 30-hour program and received the professional certificate from UCR University Extension.

“The Director of Early Childhood Education for Puerto Rico was extremely pleased…”

Multicultural kindergarten kids looking at a globe with their teacher One of those who earned the Professional Certificate in Teaching Transitional Kindergarten was credentialed kindergarten teacher Adalin Alicea, who said it was essential to her as an educator to understand this aspect of development in children from the earliest stages. “The socio-emotional development of the human being is one of the determining aspects in their adaptability to their surrounding environment,” Adalin noted. “Having participated in this educational process has provided me with the tools necessary to enhance my students’ socio-emotional skills. The knowledge I acquired has provided me with a guide to create the foundations of human beings with responsible consciences.”

Given the success of the partnership with UCR University Extension in the teacher trainer program, Rosangela said that Betances is now working on different proposals to keep up the training and continue to provide best practices and more education for the teachers.

“This was very enriching for the Puerto Rican teachers…and we are enthusiastic about bringing more opportunities for training…”

“It’s been very good for us and the teachers to have a different experience, a different vision, because this was very enriching for them,” she said. “Apart from the early childhood education experience that Dr. Hernandez and Ms. Dorado were able to show us, we had another view, and that is that like everything now, education is a global entity. It’s not you alone anymore, and you can benefit from the experience of other professionals who are dealing with kids from day-to-day. This was a great opportunity for us and for the kindergarten teachers of Puerto Rico. We are very enthusiastic about bringing more opportunities for certifications and training to our teachers.”