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UTEP Ed.D. Program Reunites Kindergarten Teacher, Pupil

Last Updated on February 21, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Originally published February 21, 2018

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

It’s a story as old as time. Elementary school teacher meets exceptional student. Teacher loses track of student as their academic journey continues. Teacher, now a doctoral candidate, and student, who just earned a doctorate, meet at a UTEP doctoral reception after no contact for more than 30 years.

This is a color photo of a 1982-83 kindergarten class.
Among the students in Cynthia Chavez's 1982-83 kindergarten class was Angela Sanchez, back row second from right. The two met again during a winter 2017 UTEP doctoral reception. Sanchez (now Reyna) earn her Ed.D. during winter Commencement and Chavez was a second year doctoral student.

OK, so maybe it is not as common as it sounds, but that is what happened to Cynthia Chavez and her former kindergarten student Angela Reyna.

Chavez was a few years out of The University of Texas at El Paso and a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Alta Vista Elementary School in Central El Paso, when she met Angela Sanchez (now Reyna) in 1982. She said she immediately realized that Reyna was academically advanced and gave her additional class duties to keep her from getting bored. By the end of the academic year, the student was reading at a third-grade level.

The teacher, a UTEP alumnus who earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1977 and her Master of Education degree in reading diagnostics five years later, left Alta Vista after a few years but continued as an educator and education consultant to include an assignment with the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence.

Chavez started her doctoral studies in early childhood literacy in 2004 at New Mexico State University, but stopped for various personal and professional reasons. She initially retired in 2008, but continued to teach with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Department of Education until December 2017. She decided in 2016 to renew her efforts for a doctorate at UTEP.

“It was time for me to go back to school and follow my dreams,” she said during a meeting with Reyna, Ed.D., in the UTEP Union Building East.

Angus Mungal, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational leadership and foundations, learned about the connection during a winter 2017 doctoral reception in the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts. He chaired Reyna’s dissertation committee, and has had Chavez in two of his doctoral courses.

Mungal said he asked Chavez to stand behind him as he approached Reyna and asked for the name of her kindergarten teacher. Reyna named Chavez. The UTEP professor said he stepped aside and reintroduced the two “classmates.” He called it a moment of serendipity.

“I was floored,” said Mungal, who noted that both share the reflective and thoughtful qualities of exceptional doctoral students. “Those are the stories that are so evocative. There was such a warmth. I was excited to see them connected again.”

Chavez Reyna
Angela Reyna, Ed.D., left, praised her kindergarten teacher, Cynthia Chavez, for bringing academics to life. Today, Reyna is an administrator at Parkland Middle School and Chavez is a UTEP doctoral candidate in early childhood literacy.

Reyna, assistant principal at Parkland Middle School, said her parents promoted the benefits of reading and a formal education at an early age. The El Paso native said she always dreamed about becoming a teacher. She would go home after kindergarten and model Chavez’s techniques such as setting up reading, writing and math centers to share what she learned with her younger brother as they played “school.”

The administrator praised her former teacher as someone who brought academics to life. She recalled one time when Chavez dressed as the Tin Man to read “The Wizard of Oz” to her class. Reyna, who earned her doctorate in December 2017, was such an accomplished reader that Chavez often asked her to read to her class. The educator called it her first exposure to teaching.

Reyna, who skipped first grade, earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2003 from UTEP and began her career in education as a second-grade teacher at Hacienda Heights Elementary School, now Hacienda Heights International School, in El Paso’s Lower Valley. She admitted that teaching can be difficult and demanding, but when times got rough, she would ask herself: “What would Ms. Chavez do?”

Reyna received her master’s degree in educational administration in 2005 and became an assistant principal at Bel Air High School two years later. She began her doctoral studies in 2012 as she continued to serve the Ysleta Independent School District as a campus administrator. She said she enjoys helping teachers and their students, but she eventually would like a job in higher education where she could use her interests in research to inspire a new generation of Pre-K-12 administrators.

The Parkland official advised Chavez that the path to a doctoral degree is difficult, but that she will find that the UTEP faculty, and her family and friends, including her, are ready to offer their help and support.

Today, Chavez balances her studies with a research assistant position in the college’s Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations.

“I am very proud of Angela,” Chavez said. “She beat me to the (doctoral) punch.”