Bielka Liriano ’13: Making a Difference with Math Education, Part 3


bielka photo 2017-04-17Bielka Liriano graduated from Wheelock College in 2013. She majored in Mathematics for Teaching and Elementary Education. She is currently a pre-school teacher at Horizons for Homeless Children in Boston. She recently sat down with Debra Borkovitz, co-chair of the Wheelcock College Math/Science department, who was Bielka’s faculty advisor.

In the final entry of this three-part series, Bielka talks about how her studies at Wheelock prepared her to make a difference in the lives of her students at Horizons for Homeless Children.

Read the full series.

Debbie Borkovitz: Do you want to say something about your job now?

Bielka Liriano: As I was telling you earlier, I love it!

DB: Well, tell us what it is.

BL: First of all, they also hooked me with their mission statement. Because it’s about improving the lives of children and families similar to Wheelock’s mission statement. I work at Horizons for Homeless Children, previously I was working at another location where I felt like most of the meetings and everything usually revolved around how can we be more appealing towards the parents, so that we can get higher enrollment, higher enrolllement led to financial gains for the company which was already overcharging, and blah blah blah. That’s just not the life I want to live, so I just left. I wasn’t being heard, and I wasn’t doing what I wanted there, I was not living my dream. So then I came across Horizons for Homeless Children and literally it felt like home, I was so relaxed. I knew and felt that  there is where I needed to be at the time I started.The staff had similar values as myself ,their focus is the well being of  the children, and I could see that through their interactions with the children. They are so patient, they are so loving, they are direct when they have to be, but in a way that they provided structure for the children in a positive way.

DB: That’s great.  What are some of the ways that your education at Wheelock helps you with your job right now … and I don’t just mean math, I mean the education part too.

BL: I really paid attention to things when it came to the language we need to use with children and how children function, and what it looks like when they’re not functioning and what they might need for you to support them successfully. So all of that I brought into my work, and I have all the tools that I need to be able to calm the children down or to see the signals that mean, “Okay they’re bored. It’s time to switch it up. Pay attention to their interests, going from there with curriculum. “ A more positive and happy environment is created when you just listen. Just to listen to the children, you can learn so much from them.

DB: That’s great, and Wheelock helped you with that?

BL: Yeah, definitely.  I feel like many people have told me at Wheelock that we’re the teacher and we’re teaching them, but we can also learn from the students. It’s a two-way street.  It’s a partnership where teachers should surrender always needing to control.

DB: Absolutely … what else should I ask you?

BL: I’ve gotten better at public speaking

DB: I see that. A lot better

BL: Through Horizons as well, because the way they communicated with me was so direct; it was not passive-aggressive, it was just assertive. Just “Hey, how do you feel about this?” They asked me for my opinion which people sometimes just want to speak, speak, speak and not listen. So yeah, I’ve kind of gotten to learn how important it is to communicate effectively, and how its done.

DB: What age groups are you working with now?

BL: 3 to 5

DB: At Wheelock you studied elementary education, right?

BL: Yes

DB: So can you say something about working with younger kids when you majored in elementary education?

BL: The last time I’ve been in elementary classroom was when I was doing my practicum for Wheelock. Even there I still had an immense amount of patience. There was one time I’ll never forget where one child in an inclusive classroom, who was labeled as having behavioral issues. One day; he was just upset, I don’t remember why. I think I asked him to join us since we were transitioning from morning meeting over to sit at their desks for an activity or something … he refused to move, and then he was rude to me so I just told him “Okay when you’re ready to talk to me, I’m going to be over there. You can take your time, but I’m ready when you’re ready,” and I left. And then maybe about five minutes later I felt someone tap me on my shoulder, and he’s like “I’m ready now … you’re strong. Did you know you’re strong?” And I was like “You mean like my muscles, strong?” And he’s like “No, what you did. That was strong.” I guess the fact that I didn’t overreact and l yell back at him or you know, reprimand him for speaking to me like that. I just understood that he was upset and he needed space.

DB: And so that helps you with the younger ones too?

BL: Yeah, yes it does. Children are temperamental no matter the age, sometimes for very good reasons or hidden causes. What I have learned at Wheelock while studying Elementary Ed is transferrable to the work I currently do in Early Education. It’s just a matter of adapting strategies and activities to make them age appropriate.

DB: And what are some of the challenges for the families that you work with? Are they all homeless or did they used to be homeless?

BL: The organization has partnerships with family shelters.   We have the family advocates who help them get jobs or volunteer, do community service, go back to school and get apartments. Once you have your own housing for a year, that’s when you transition out of the program. So it’s not like “Oh here’s your apartment, take your child, bye.”  It’s not that way at all. They extend things so it can be a smooth transition for the family.

DB: Is the program like a regular pre-school?

BL: We also have infant classrooms, infant/toddlers, toddlers and then going up to the pre-school …

DB: This is great. Anything else you want to say? We’ve been talking for 20 minutes. It makes me want this to be a video though because you’re so animated when you’re talking.

BL: I get so giddy sometimes, I’m just like “I love this place!”

DB: Do you speak to the children in English or Spanish?

BL: Being Bilingual is such a blessing. It helps me not only communicate with the Spanish-speaking children that come into the classroom, but also build a relationship with them. They trust me more because I’m relatable.

DB: Do you have students that speak other languages besides English and Spanish?

BL: We have a child that speaks Haitian Creole and it frustrates me that we don’t have … at least support like once a week or someone who is trilingual in the classroom to help him. But he’s catching on to the English fine. I gesture a lot when I speak to his mom in an effort to ensure that she understands me because she doesn’t speak any English but also dread doing that because I don’t know if she finds it insulting.

DB: Can’t exactly have a three year old translate for you.

BL: No.