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West U. Elementary Teacher Honored by National Group

Source: The Village News, October 1, 1996
By Sharon Grant

In a note to a scientist who had visited her class, one of Lucille Barrera's students wrote that she'd like to be a science teacher. Barrera considered that quite a complement, but it seems it's not the only compliment being paid to this innovative educator.

The West University Elementary school science teacher has captured the 1996 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award.

Barrera was nominated for the award by Dr. Ken Kennedy, director of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation funded center headquartered at Rice University.

"Lucille exemplifies the very best in a successful role model, mentor, and innovator for Hispanics and others in Houston and the country," says Dr. Kennedy. Barrera has also contributed to programs for minorities sponsored by the CRPC.

So what's the secret behind her success?

"I think the kids see how interested I am in science and they realize that my heart is really in it. I guess you could say I inspire them," explains Barrera.

And, maybe the thing that really makes the difference is what she doesn't do.

"I never use the word minority in my classroom," she says, "and when I refer to a scientist, I never use the words Black, Asian, or Hispanic to describe them."

Barrera has spent the last ten years of her 16-year teaching career at West University Elementary. In 1992, she established the school's "Scientist of the Month" program where students are taught a lesson by minority scientists. "The kids have had lessons on molecules, oil exploration, microbiology, hydroponics, and heat resistant materials," explains Barrera, "and they've also been introduced to an astronaut who visited our classroom from NASA."

She got the idea for the program at a workshop conducted by Dr. Richard Tapia, Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice. "If it hadn't been for Dr. Tapia, I would have never even thought about creating the program," explains Barrera.

The mother of two says "this is my way of bringing multiculturalism into school."

Barrera says she emphasizes minority role models and hopes their interaction with her students will help encourage and motivate the kids to pursue science and engineering studies.

"We also expose the kids to a lot of hands-on experiments and problem solving," explains Barrera. "Since we are heading into the 21st century, I believe these children need a strong foundation in science."

> Barrera will receive her award at the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference in Houston next week. She says she is "excited and honored to win the award" and she hopes more businesses will reward science teachers for doing a good job of preparing our children for the future.

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