What They Learned: Maya Antonio ’24

For her thesis, Antonio examined bilingual community education centers, where teaching and learning transcend the traditional classroom space.

As a double major in education and linguistics, pursuing a thesis focused on how language is used and perceived in educational spaces made perfect sense for Maya Antonio ’24. As she learned in her coursework at Haverford, teaching strategies that value all students’ backgrounds are heralded by scholars, yet some teachers remain hesitant to incorporate them. That includes teachers who believe in the value of multilingualism, Antonio says.

“I wanted to gain more insight into why that is,” she says. “What creates the gap between teachers’ held beliefs about language and the kinds of beliefs they’re communicating through their teaching? And how can we help reduce that tension in service of better preparing teachers to support multilingual students?”

Antonio originally planned to work closely with K-12 teachers for her thesis but says she realized early on that logistics and hectic school schedules would make doing so difficult. Instead, she pivoted to bilingual community education centers, where teaching and learning transcend the traditional classroom space. In addition, Antonio says, scant research has been conducted on the efforts of such centers.

The resulting work, “From Language Ideology to Practice: Teachers’ Navigation of Language Ideologies in a Bilingual Community Education Center,” was supported by Antonio’s advisor, Associate Professor of Linguistics Brook Lillehaugen. It was Lillehaugen, she says, who helped her scale back her ambitious plan of conducting multiple interviews with teachers and observing them for more than six hours.

“Brook helped me realize that I could pull back while still researching the same topic and that engaging in quality thesis work didn’t have to come at the cost of not being able to enjoy my final semester of college,” says Antonio. “Together, we worked to scale back my initial plans to something much more manageable but still in line with my initial vision, and throughout the semester, Brook continued to help me work on maintaining a good work-life balance.”

The process of writing a thesis reinforced Antonio’s desire to be a teacher rather than a researcher, she says. But despite its challenges, she says she found immense value in the experience, especially when interacting with the educators who reaffirmed the value of teaching. Additionally, “thesis-ing,” as Antonio playfully calls it, also helped her realize just how valuable her support network at Haverford was. Her friends, Lillehaugen, peer reviewers, and fellow thesis writers all played a significant role in her success, she says.

As she prepares to embark on her career as an educator after following her Fulbright Scholarship experience in Taiwan, writing a thesis has prompted Antonio to reflect on her own language use and beliefs. While she’s not multilingual herself, Antonio is certain that as an educator she will be working with students from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures. She says she hopes her research will prompt educators who work in and out of the classroom to do the same.

“I hope my research encourages more people to recognize the validity of and engage in work to support ‘non-traditional’ learning spaces like the bilingual community education center I worked with,” she says. “I think we often think of education as only occurring in the school classroom, but when I began taking education courses in the Bi-Co as well as through doing this thesis, I realized how impactful and important educational spaces like afterschool programming, community centers, etc. can be.”