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Fort Lewis College dean focuses on the lexicon of learning

Jenni Trujillo sees value of land and language
Jenni Trujillo, the new dean of the Fort Lewis College School of Education, talks with Karlee Udero, right, and Marissa Coumerilh, on Wednesday at a job fair at La Plata County Fairgrounds.

Jenni Trujillo, who is eight months in as dean of the Fort Lewis College School of Education, is no stranger to the campus or Durango.

This is Trujillo’s third stint at the Fort.

She met her husband, Thad Trujillo, a Durango real-estate agent, who at the time was the school’s star quarterback, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in her first go-around at FLC from 1990 to 1993.

From 2002 to 2013, she was a professor in the teacher education program and worked as coordinator of the linguistically and culturally diverse program. She also worked with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to increase the number of Southern Utes and other Native Americans pursuing education degrees.

Between her time on the mesa, she’s worked as a teacher at Park Elementary School and in Farmington.

She’s also worked as national director of English language acquisition for Pearson Education USA, and helped write a series of literacy books for English as a second language learners called “Milestones.”

Before she was named to replace former School of Education Dean Richard Fulton, who retired in June 2020, she operated her own educational consultancy business, Tru-Learning, out of her Durango home.

Her family history and life experience has fueled a passion for bilingual education.

She was born in Denver and her family moved as an infant to Venezuela where she lived until she was 5, when her family returned to the Front Range.

Jenni Trujillo, new dean of the Fort Lewis College School of Education, was recruiting students for the School of Education’s Southwest Teacher Quality Partnership on Wednesday at a job fair at La Plata County Fairgrounds.

“In fifth grade, a school counselor called me downstairs and said, ‘Is it true you speak Spanish in your house? And I said, ‘Yes, my mom and I do.’ And he said, ‘Well, you need to stop speaking Spanish because it’s going hurt your schooling. You’ll get confused,’” Trujillo said.

Trujillo said her mom brushed off the suggestion, and continued speaking Spanish to her, but she said she stopped speaking Spanish to her younger brothers and sisters.

“I ended up translating for my own family,” she said.

The experience guided Trujillo to focus on the problems of bilingual families losing fluency in their native language to adopt English in the United States, a concept called subtractive bilingualism, a topic she pursued in her doctorate.

“Of course, that counselor was wrong. He treated a language outside of English as a deficit, when in reality it’s an asset,” she said.

Her passion for bilingual education has led her to pursue a partnership with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe that she hopes, as soon as this summer, will lead to the creation of a program offering classes to certify secondary teachers to teach the Ute language.

“Language ties you to your culture, and that matters a lot,” Trujillo said.

While issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are a focus among higher education campuses across the country, Trujillo has been working in that area for decades.

She was among the students leading the effort to change FLC’s mascot from the “Raiders” to “Skyhawks” in the early ’90s, and she was one of the founders of FLC’s El Centro de Muchos Colores, the college’s program to provide academic and social support to Hispanic students.

FLC President Tom Stritikus said Trujillo is a teacher at her core, someone who will bring energy and passion to improving K-12 education in the Four Corners.

“She brings all the great qualities that you would want a dean to have – understanding: understanding teaching, understanding students. And she’s really focused on how to improve schools in our region.

“She was shaping the future of Fort Lewis back when she was a student. So this is really full circle for her coming back to us now.”

For the future, Trujillo would like to see FLC’s School of Education become the hallmark school developing educators in the Four Corners, something particularly important given the shortage of teachers in rural school districts.

Jenni Trujillo, new dean of the Fort Lewis College School of Education, says FLC is uniquely positioned to train Native American and Hispanic educators to help ease the rural teacher shortage in the Four Corners.

FLC is ideally positioned, she said, to recruit Hispanic students from the San Luis Valley in Colorado, from Albuquerque and from small towns in New Mexico. She can also recruit students from Native American tribes in the Four Corners states, who can obtain teaching degrees and use that training to help improve their home communities. Trujillo said teachers who know, value and understand the culture and history of their own communities are key to help fill gaps in school districts facing teacher shortages.

“I think the land, where you are from, gives you place-based knowledge that in education really helps you,” she said. “It helps you understand where you are and who you are.”

She sees the addition of Animas High School, which is expected to open in a new building on campus in September 2022, as another important piece of the puzzle that will make FLC’s School of Education attractive to prospective teachers.

“There will be a fluidity of learning from each other,” she said about the arrival of Animas High.

“We’ll have a chance to work with high school teachers; high school students will have a chance to take college classes; our students will have greater access to field-based learning. The opportunities we’re going to have to collaborate with Animas High School are very exciting prospects.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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