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Bilingual Teacher Raises the Bar for his Students

Erik Manriquez works with student


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Erik Manriquez remembers the day in fourth grade when his teacher’s belief in him became apparent. He was new to the class and, more importantly, new to learning in English.

As he stood at his locker that morning, his teacher came bursting out of the classroom, calling his name. “I was so scared. I thought she was going to yell at me.”

“She told me, you got a 100 percent on your math test. She gave me the most humongous chocolate bar ever. I was the happiest child.”

That was almost 15 years ago, but Manriquez never forgot how his teacher’s belief in him felt. Today he’s in his second year of teaching at Washington Elementary School. And he’s teaching in a first-grade bilingual classroom with students a lot like the student he once was.

He says he feels a strong connection.

“Part of that bond is that we come from the same culture, the same background. At home, we eat the same food. We watch the same shows. We listen to the same music.”

But his teaching is about more than compassion. He reminds his students throughout the day what it will take to achieve their dreams – whether it’s being a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a firefighter or, like him, a teacher.

“In order to get there, what do you have to do?” he asks them. He tells them he went to school for 16 years to become a teacher.

“The students know. They recognize that they have to learn, to come to class,” Manriquez said. “They want to impress me. They want to show me.”

One day last month, another teacher stood outside his class, barely able to contain her excitement. It was Elizabeth Hand, Washington’s instructional coach. Manriquez’ students had shown impressive growth on the latest MAP test, beating the school growth goal by nearly 10 percentage points – even during a pandemic. A total of 69 percent of his students met or exceeded expected growth on MAP, compared to the school goal of 60 percent.

The subject? Math.

“Elizabeth was more happy than I was,” he said.

Hand remembers asking what Manriquez did. “My students know I believe in them,” she remembers him telling her. “I tell them every day. They work for me.”

Even though she works every day with teachers, illustrating the power of data and targeted strategies, Hand was not surprised by Manriquez’ answer. “Relationships are powerful,” she said. “Sometimes in education, I don’t think we recognize how powerful.”

A 2014 graduate of Jefferson High School, Manriquez studied education at Rockford University. During his senior year, he entered the Aspiring Teacher program at Rockford Public Schools. He student-taught in the second grade at Washington in an English-speaking class. The Title I teacher at Washington urged him to consider a bilingual position at the school, and he was hired in the 2019-20 school year.

“Every teacher has a shoe that fits that teacher,” said Patty Bachmann, Washington’s Title I teacher who encouraged Manriquez. “First grade bilingual fits Erik like a complete, perfect match.”

Manriquez doesn’t just preach hard work to his students. He practices it. According to Bachmann, who was also his first-year teaching mentor, Manriquez has two qualities of effective teaching: He’s inquisitive, and he’s not afraid of constructive criticism. If she mentions his students need specific visuals in the room, like ABCs or a word wall, he wastes no time. “I will talk about it one day, and the next day, they are already up there,” she said.

Manriquez was fortunate to experience two aha moments, Bachmann said: One in the fourth grade, realizing the power of a teacher’s faith in her students, and the other while watching a bilingual class during his student teaching.

When he worked with those second-grade students, he had the same aha moment and thought, “This is where I want to be.”

Headshot of Mary Kaull

Mary Kaull

Mary Kaull has worked in communications for the Rockford Public Schools since 2012. She has lived in near northwest Rockford for 30 years and has two adult children. In her spare time, she exercises, reads, cooks and contemplates her growing pile of craft materials. She is fostering her son's hunting dog, Seamus.

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