Course of Action: For Graduating Student, a Challenge is no Foreign Concept

By Tom McLaughlin

Simply put, says Aurora Boyette, she has never been afraid to reinvent herself.

“Perhaps it’s because of what I experienced as a child,” says the Galloway resident, a student in the master of arts in teaching Spanish (MAT) program at Rutgers University–Camden. “If you are afraid to start over, you will never know all the good things that can come in life.”

On May 21, Boyette will once again prosper from her willingness to take on a new challenge, as she and counterpart Galina Graulau become the first two graduates of Rutgers–Camden’s innovative MAT program.

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Aurora Boyette with her mentor, Próspero Garcia

While Boyette has developed a penchant for embracing opportu nity, there was a not-so-distant time ago when she had to learn to start over. As she recalls, in the late 1970s, her father, Jorge, was imprisoned as a political dissident in their native Cuba. At 14 years of age, she immigrated to Miami with her mother, Maria, and sister, Dulce, leaving behind her extended family and life as she knew it.

“I knew that if I didn’t go, I would be forcing my mother and sister to stay as well, because they would never leave me behind,” she recalls.

Joined by her father three years later, Boyette and her family settled in Union City, N.J., where she attended Emerson High School. After graduating, she worked at Unilever in Edgewater, assisting researchers in the toxicology and microbiology departments, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology at New Jersey City University. In 1979, she relocated to Galloway and continued her studies at nearby Stockton University.

Without many steady job opportunities, Boyette did what she has always done best: she took a gamble on herself. She trained as a roulette dealer and became one of the first employees at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City when the casino opened its doors in 1980. Three years later, she cashed in her knowledge and experience and became a floor supervisor at the newly opened Showboat.

As her sons, Julian and Adam, grew older, Boyette sought a change from the long, hectic casino hours and returned to school, earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in business, from Stockton in 2000. She soon began looking for a job as a pharmaceutical representative. Once again, however, she would chart a new course.

In early 2001, Boyette was attending a job fair when she was recruited by the supervisor of world languages for the Southern Regional School District, who convinced her to work provisionally as a Spanish teacher while completing the alternate route program.

“After talking with her for an hour, I came out of that job fair thinking, ‘I don’t have the experience, but I think I can do this,’” she recalls. “Besides, all that time raising my children made me realize that I was good with kids.”

Boyette taught Spanish for a year at Southern Regional Middle School before joining the staff at Absegami High School, in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District, in 2002. As she continued to adjust to the classroom, she realized that she could enrich her lessons by sharing her wealth of cultural and historical experiences, and personal understanding of the Spanish language.

“I’ve had an interesting life, so I can talk to the kids about things like growing up in Cuba or living through the Cuban Missile Crisis,” she says. “Sometimes I feel like Forest Gump; I always seem to be where something is happening. The students want to know their teachers, so I’ll share family photos. They make that connection and remember it, rather than just talking about some market in South America.”

After completing 15 graduate credits at Stockton as part of their Summer to Summer Alternate Route Program, Boyette sought an MAT program that would bolster her expertise, while addressing her specific needs.

“I was looking for a program that provided practical strategies for K-12 Spanish teachers, wasn’t too far from home, and offered face-to-face instruction, rather than courses that were strictly online,” she recalls.

Enrolling at Rutgers–Camden in spring 2013, Boyette began to question some of the strategies and methods that she was accustomed to using, and sought to apply the innovative approaches that she was learning in her MAT courses. After consulting with her mentor, Próspero Garcia, an assistant professor of Spanish at Rutgers–Camden, she has helped to implement a successful pilot program at Absegami featuring “concept-based instruction,” a revolutionary pedagogical approach that Garcia has been carrying out in his research. The pilot program, which includes eight participating students, began in October and will conclude in mid-May. For more on the innovative pilot program, read the full story on NewsNow.

Reflecting on the past two years, Boyette says that the “challenging and rewarding” MAT program – and its exceptional, supportive faculty members – has forever changed the way that she teaches and assesses her students’ progress. She now recommends other prospective students to follow suit and, above all, to make the most of their opportunities.

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