A Fulbright award will send Nebraska’s Ted Hamann a handful of miles into Mexico to study how youth are impacted by fluid family situations that flow across international borders.
Hamann will study and teach at the Tijuana campus of Mexico’s Universidad Pedagógica Nacional during the fall semester. His research will examine a new and complicated border-spanning partnership that links UPN and three other Mexican institution of higher education with partners in both the University of California and the California State University systems. Their collaboration seeks to build capacity at the classroom, school, municipal, state and national levels to meet the needs of transnationally mobile children who circulate between the United States and Mexico.
“There are 600,000 children in schools in Mexico — many of whom are U.S. citizens by birth — who were previously attending schools in the United States,” Hamann said. “These are kids caught between two countries. Some get the opportunity to be bilingual and bicultural, a highly sought after skillset. Others struggle in that transition with teachers and schools not ready to build on what they know.”
The Fulbright award signals a new phase in work that Hamann has been involved with for much of his life. It predates his 2005 hire in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education and links volunteering from his high school and college days.
Building on his master’s thesis in the mid-1990s, Hamann has researched how schools (primarily in the United States and Latin America) react to students and families who move across international borders; how policies are transformed across various levels of education systems; and how responsive school reforms are to various student populations (particularly transnational students and English language learners). This long-term research focus was inspired by Hamann’s volunteer work in Latin America as a teenager and his first professional job running a bilingual literacy program in Kansas City.
As a teen growing up in suburban Boston, Hamann channeled a restlessness “to do something” by volunteering with Amigos de las Americas, a nonprofit that promotes youth leadership and community improvement in Latin America. During his years with the program, Hamann assisted with community sanitation and dental hygiene initiatives and led floor paving and vision screening projects.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1991 (with majors in education and Latin America studies), Hamann was hired to lead a bilingual family literacy program in Kansas City.
“Many of the (adult students) had this idea that they just weren’t smart, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Hamann said. “These were people who came to Kansas City not knowing how to speak English, but they learned how to use the transit system to navigate the city. One task of education is to help people see and further develop the skills they already use to solve problems.”
Through studies of transnational children, Hamann has tracked similar trends in schools today. Specifically, in children who are born in and begin school within the United States before transitioning into Latin American educational systems after a family move.
“As it turns out, many of these kids (now in Mexico) haven’t been taught academic Spanish because it wasn’t used in their U.S. schools” Hamann said. “These kids struggle with school expectations of language competency and, if no one investigates further, they can be classified as being slow or less capable than they really are.”
The problem builds from teacher preparation programs in Mexico which do not provide instruction on how to identify student skills in English, Hamann said. Schools in the U.S. have the same issue — though a mirror image — as teachers don’t build upon what arriving students have learned to do in Spanish.
Hamann’s Fulbright project will be focused on schools in Tijuana and Mexico’s Baja region, which feature one of the world’s heaviest concentrations of transnational students. He will also work with higher education colleagues on both sides of the border.
“Tijuana is probably as close to the U.S. as you can be and still be on a Fulbright,” Hamann said. “But, while my travel time is short, the work has the potential to make a much needed impact within these schools.”
One of the ideas that the collaborating teacher education programs are considering is a student ambassador concept that pairs new students with a peer mentor. Hamann said the program is used in a Tijuana-area school that has identified support for transnational students as an important issue.
“The student ambassador pairs with the new student for a week, then transitions to a daily check in then weekly,” Hamann said. “It’s a good example how a school that has figured out a way to improve its welcome can be a leader and shape change.”
Hamann’s Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program project, “Building Capacity to Meet the Needs of Transnational Students in Mexican Schools,” will also involve the Autonomous University of Baja California; the Colegio de la Frontera; Baja California’s Binational Program for Migrant Education; and several Southern California-based institutions of higher education.
Hamann is one of more than 800 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research, and provide expertise abroad during the 2019-20 academic year through the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. Learn more about the program.