The professionally bound student books are on display at NMHU’s School of Education

August 2, 2023

Lorraine Martinez poses with student author Nisa Aragon

Lorraine Martinez has worked in early childhood education for nearly 50 years and taught at New Mexico Highlands University’s School of Education for nearly 30 years.

Her Young Children with Diverse Abilities class requires students to produce a final project that consists of a children’s book that they have created and illustrated themselves. The books must be based on a child with a disability, and this year’s books featured children who are autistic, deaf, have learning disabilities, or have cerebral palsy, among others.

“Because they are going to be teachers, a lot of the students have told me they plan to use their book in their classrooms,” Martinez said. “It’s really proven to be a valuable tool for our students in their professional teaching careers.”

The books from this spring semester’s class of 28 students impressed Dr. Mary Earick, Dean of the School of Education, so much that she decided to have the books professionally bound. In fact, Dr. Earick even ordered a set of the books to be permanently displayed at the School of Education.

“The importance of this project cannot be understated as authentic children’s books featuring diverse learners is limited,” Dr. Earick said. “Representation is critical to thriving, healthy children in schools. When you can see yourself in a book, you feel pride and you feel that you are part of the community. Lorraine’s students deeply understand this aspect of early childhood identity development and now have skills to apply that in their classrooms.”

Along with the book, students are required to provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student represented in their books and a paper explaining why they chose the child with that disability and what age level/grade level their story would target.

“Her students applied all the knowledge they gained in this class as they wrote children’s books featuring diverse learners,” Dr. Earick said. 

School of Education picture book

Each picture book features a specific disability and offers insight to teachers for how to support various diverse learners based on their individual needs

Student Nisa Aragon’s book, for example, focuses on a Head Start student who is deaf and struggles to adapt because the student’s parents don’t know how to sign and are so busy making ends meet that they don’t have the time to learn. As a result, the student is uncomfortable with adults, which provides a unique challenge to the Head Start staff.

“This story was so compelling to me because it’s heartbreaking, and yet it provided such an obvious way to help not only this student, but others as well,” Aragon said.

Martinez teaches this course year-round during every fall, spring, and summer semester.

“Lorraine Martinez’s commitment to students has been foundational to NMHU’s School of Education graduating competent and compassionate educators,” Dr. Earick said. “Teaching is both an art and science, and Professor Martinez is exemplary at supporting students in both areas.”

“The students did such an amazing job putting their books together,” Martinez said. “They each had a bound copy of their book mailed to them. Our hope is that the books displayed at the School of Education will inspire our future students to learn more about diverse learners and develop fully inclusive classrooms in our schools.”