Velia Soto, BBE alumni and Erie Charter School Principal
Velia Soto is the principal of Erie Elementary Charter School, one of the few dual language schools in the city of Chicago, and she is a strong believer in putting student experiences first. After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Soto decided to further her education by pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational and Organizational Leadership from Roosevelt University and a Master’s degree in Bilingual-Bicultural Education from DePaul.
Soto began her career teaching kindergarten in the Chicago Public Schools, and she eventually became a Bilingual Coordinator before working at Erie Charter School. According to Soto, it was her student teaching placement in a bilingual kindergarten class that opened her eyes to the needs of the immigrant and English Language Learner populations. However, it was not until she met LLC Department Chair Sonia Soltero that she began thinking about teaching in a bilingual setting. Says Soto, “Although I always knew I would go into teaching, meeting Sonia Soltero made me very passionate about teaching language and culture and bilingual education”.
Soto met Soltero during her first year of teaching in the Chicago Public Schools at a professional development session on teaching in a dual language classroom. Soltero encouraged her to apply for DePaul’s Bilingual-Bicultural Education Master’s program, which turned out to be an irreplaceable experience when the opportunity later arose for Soto to open a dual language program in her school.
Soto began working at Erie Elementary Charter School in 2005 as a founding kindergarten teacher and was offered the role of assistant principal three years later. She is now entering her fifth year as Erie’s serving principal. Soto believes that Erie is unique in its three pronged approach to education, which consists of an early college going culture (beginning in kindergarten), a strong belief in and practice of educating the whole child, including social-emotional needs, and a desire for its scholars to be confident in their culture and proficient in both Spanish and English. To this effect, Erie fosters an 80/20 program beginning in kindergarten, in which students are immersed in the Spanish language.
According to Soto, “It is because of the encouragement I received from Sonia Soltero and the knowledge I gained through the BBE program that I lead in a way that puts the students’ experiences first and foremost, including their culture and language”. The Department of Leadership, Language, and Curriculum looks forward to hearing about Soto’s future endeavors.