Assistant Professor Maria Timmons Flores exudes passion for embracing migrant youth and confirming in them their bilingual advantage as they grow into collegiate young adults. Currently in her third year at Western Washington University, Timmons Flores teaches six classes within the Woodring College of Education, specifically the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages division. At noon on Thursday, April 14, she'll share the story of her current research project, “Building Bridges with Migrant Youth,” in Communications Facility Room 125 on campus.
Timmons Flores calls the Pacific Northwest home, as her family lives in Seattle - and she has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from WWU, as well as her master’s degree in environmental education from WWU’s Huxley College of Education. She also holds a doctorate from the University of Colorado-Boulder in bilingual multicultural foundations of education. With the help of an array of eager students, Timmons Flores is taking significant strides toward reassuring bilingual students of their societal and institutional advantages and pushing them to seek out higher education.
“I’ve worked with young people in a lot of different settings - from the juvenile injustice system, as I call it, to alternative schools - I’ve worked with kids outdoors in a lot of different places, also,” she says. “I realized that oftentimes our primary social institutions don’t give the kids in our society that need the most help the support they need. Oftentimes, kids that don’t have family support at home or are in really challenging situations are the ones at schools who are actually looked at as being problematic and hard to support. That was really the reason why I initially started going into teacher education.”
Timmons Flores’ passion is working with students who face a magnitude of injustice in their everyday lives. For bilingual students in public schools, particularly those coming from migrant families, social outcasting can take place, when those students are coming to school with the great asset of speaking not one, but two languages. Timmons Flores references the unfairness of this occurrence, as the parents of those migrant youth are dealing with poverty and difficult, and at times dangerous, working conditions, all while performing a service that helps to put food on the rest of our tables. The mobility that such families must have in order to follow the crops they harvest put their children at risk for inconsistent schooling. She says she has felt privileged to be able to work with the migrant families of this region.
Thursday’s presentation will be framed around a concept Timmons Flores calls “engage scholarship,” which consists of the idea that research, teaching and service are the three intertwining pillars that faculty members apply within the university and, ideally, also put toward solving community-based problems. The main component of the presentation will be the evolution of her “Building Bridges with Migrant Youth” course, taught through the TESOL department. The class began as a concept for an independent study project for a handful of students and has grown into a class that encompasses researching migrant youth and their families, building strong relationships with those students within their own communities, and leading the Migrant Youth Leadership Conference on WWU’s campus.
While Timmons Flores says two other research projects have evolved within the research for the “Building Bridges for Migrant Youth” project, she anticipates that many more will come in the future, stemming from the spread of this project’s affects on the community. She is also currently writing a grant proposal to try to fund a bilingual paths program to support students.
“That’s sort of the big picture of what I’m doing, right now,” she says, “but I’ll end up doing more research along that line along the way. I always do research that’s really close to my practice; whether it’s on my teaching or on the work I’m doing in the community.”