UNT professor and student create bilingual education book to discuss identity and emotions amid pandemic

Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - 09:50
Martha Samaniego Calderón and Dan Heiman
Martha Samaniego Calderón and Dan Heiman

As the global pandemic lingers on, news about the virus and images of people wearing masks to slow the spread are a mainstay on the news and social media.

For Martha Samaniego Calderón’s 7-year-old daughter, seeing people with masks has been a little scary and prompted her to ask questions. Calderón figured she wasn’t the only parent facing these difficult conversations.

As a graduate student in the College of Visual Arts and Design, she decided to put her art education skills to work developing a bilingual education book that promotes the use of masks and invites discussion about identity and emotions amid the health crisis. Her husband Dan Heiman, an assistant professor in the College of Education who specializes in equity and social justice in bilingual education, pitched in on the written portion of the book.

Beyond the current pandemic, people, especially in marginalized groups, often have to wear metaphorical masks, Heiman said. This book also can be used to address the unseen ways we can disguise our emotions and identities.

“Our facial expressions are important and when we are wearing a mask, it’s harder for others to understand how we’re feeling. Having real conversations about those emotions hidden behind a physical or metaphorical mask can be helpful for people of all ages who are trying navigate this new reality,” Calderón said.

They hope the self-published book, “Behind My Mask, Detras de mi cubrebocas,” can be a guide and pedagogical tool for parents, teachers and children, particularly in the Latinx community. Calderón and Heiman also have created a bilingual blog with free lessons and downloadable activities to accompany the book. 

“It is a good primer for discussions not only for children, but also our UNT students who are going out into the teaching field during an unprecedented time. We don’t know exactly what K-12 classrooms will look like in the fall, but social-emotional learning is going to be more important than ever,” Heiman said. “Think specifically about these spaces where you have people of different races and cultures coming together, such as a dual language program; I think it could be a really valuable tool.” 

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