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Anita Hernandez selected as NMSU's Kidd Literacy Chair

Anita Hernandez, a long-time educator who has focused her higher education career in literacy, has been selected as the Don and Sarrah Kidd Endowed Chair in Literacy in the New Mexico State University College of Education.



Anita Hernandez, a long-time educator who has focused her higher education career in literacy, has been selected as the Don and Sarrah Kidd Endowed Chair in Literacy in the New Mexico State University College of Education. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The chair was established in 2008 with a gift from Carlsbad banker Don Kidd and his wife, Sarrah, to attract and reward high quality teaching, research, service and outreach to New Mexico's public schools by a faculty member in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

"The Kidds really are visionaries," said Hernandez. "Through their generosity we can do so much to promote literacy in New Mexico."

Hernandez, who joins the NMSU College of Education faculty from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she was an associate professor of literacy in the department of teacher education, said it was her own passion for wanting to be a better reader in both of her languages that led to her pursuit of a graduate degree in reading and literacy.

"Literacy is the ability to make meaning out of what you read, not just the ability to read the words on the page. That is just the beginning of a complex process," said Hernandez, who learned English as her second language. "I didn't always have the ease in English to read difficult texts and I wanted to fix that."

In her first semester at NMSU, Hernandez is teaching courses in the Language, Literacy and Culture Program, specifically early elementary literacy.

"Young children already come to school with a lot of knowledge. They can read the world around them long before they can read words on a page or write," Hernandez said.

Hernandez will focus some of her outreach efforts on public school children and is looking for principals or teachers who are interested in promoting family literacy through after-school programs.

"There is a lot of power in literacy at the grass roots level," she said. "I would like to establish a literacy network that would benefit Las Cruces and the surrounding, more rural areas."

Hernandez is especially interested in reaching out to Latino students who have learned English as their second language. She is currently writing a grant that focuses on tapping the rich linguistic background of Latino English language learners. Along with her husband, Jose Montelongo, a public school librarian and an NMSU alumnus, and in partnership with Richard Duran at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Roberta Herter at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, they are establishing a cognate database. Cognates, words that are similar in English and Spanish, should be incorporated into the reading curriculum, Hernandez said.

"The reason for using cognates is that Latino English learners can use their first language as they read to increase their vocabulary and their comprehension of the material," she said.

Hernandez also is studying how Latino students are successful and what literacy and educational challenges they face while majoring in polytechnic fields.

Hernandez, originally from Guadalupe, Calif., started her career as a public school elementary teacher at Sunnyslope Elementary School in Hollister, Calif. She has a bachelor's in liberal studies with a bilingual cross-cultural emphasis from California State University, Chico, a master's in reading education from California State University, Sacramento and a doctorate in literacy education from Stanford University. She has co-authored two books on literacy and one on English language learners. She also has been published in many peer-reviewed journals, including Reading Teacher and English Journal. She was the principal investigator for a $1.5 million federal grant to provide professional development to teachers of English language learners.

To learn more about Hernandez's plans to establish a literacy network or to partner with her for after-school programming, e-mail her at achernan@nmsu.edu.