- Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2015

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) - Apolo Curiel has a mug on his desk at South Shore Elementary School with a thought for his first class of fifth-graders to consider today.

“I’m not saying I’m Batman,” the mug reads. “I’m just saying no one ever saw me and Batman in the same room.”

Curiel, 30, is willing to concede he might not actually be the Dark Knight of comic-book fame. But as a child watching Batman in Spanish in Guadalajara, Mexico, Curiel found the superhero had some good lessons to impart.

They’re similar to the lessons Curiel wants to pass along as a first-year teacher, as South Shore enters its first year as a full-fledged magnet program for bilingual education.

Unlike Superman or Spider-Man, for instance, Batman has no particular superpowers. He relies instead on his own brains and strength - plus a wide array of clever tools and devices.

“This is a plausible character. Someone could be Batman,” Curiel said. “Someone can be a hero.”

Curiel doesn’t intend to be Batman, exactly, for the 42 students in the two classes he’ll see each day. But he and South Shore both want him to be a role model.

Like 50 percent of the student population at South Shore, Curiel’s background is Latino. Like 38 percent of them, his first language was Spanish. He also spent his very early years in Mexico, which will be familiar to at least some of his students.

But Curiel also holds two degrees from Oregon State University, one in education and one in human development and family sciences with an emphasis in child development. He’s also a male teacher; a rarity in elementary schools. He’s there to remind his students they can follow a similar path, if they choose.

Bicultural role models are important, Curiel said, because their very presence says to the students, “Look, hard work pays off. You are not bound to be working minimum-wage jobs, or in the fields.”

Too often, Curiel said, people in minority groups feel trapped by the perception of what their future should be.

“You feel you’ve been labeled part of this group and you don’t have the inner hope or energy or drive to do something different,” he said. “They just settle. And that’s sad.”

South Shore began offering dual-immersion classes in Spanish and English as an option in 2009. This year, it has eliminated the English-only option for kindergarten, first and second grades. The plan is to add another dual-immersion class at another grade level each year until the program is complete through fifth grade.

The school is also working to make its faculty and staff better match its student makeup. Curiel is one of a handful of bicultural teachers at South Shore this year. Another is first-grade teacher Grace Arevalo, who received her teaching experience in Puerto Rico.

Curiel did his student teaching last year at South Shore, also in the fifth-grade classes. He said he received multiple job offers but accepted Albany’s because of the district’s desire to expand the bilingual program.

“I want to grow with the program, and help the program grow,” he said.

Curiel wasn’t interested in being a teacher initially. He thought he’d follow his parents, both of whom became doctors, although various job circumstances kept both from going into practice.

“At an early age, I discovered seeing blood and flaps of skin open wasn’t my thing,” he said wryly.

He did have a knack for math and science, and he liked taking things apart and putting them together again. High school teachers steered him toward drafting and cabinetry classes, and he enrolled at OSU with the idea of pursuing engineering.

But Curiel also had opportunities to tutor high school students while he studied his core classes at Chemeketa Community College. And his younger brother’s tae kwon do instructor offered him free lessons if he would act as an assistant.

At OSU, he found he missed the time he’d spent teaching. “And I knew that possibly engineering wasn’t what I really wanted to do,” he said.

Curiel’s major changed from studying engineering to construction management engineering to general science to human development before he decided to switch to education. His wife, Marylin Carranza-Curiel, wasn’t terribly happy about yet another change, he said.

Her support, and that of his family, was critical in getting to this point, he added. He is also thankful for his professors and counselors in the College of Education.

And, Curiel said, he is sure education is where he wants to stay. Engineering probably would have paid far more, he acknowledges, but as a teacher, he can help inspire a new generation.

‘I’m excited,” he said. “I’m nervous, because I feel that there’s a lot of expectations I have to live up to. I just hope I can do as great of a job as everyone thinks I can.”

___

Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com

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