Davis teacher to receive honorary Ph.D.
Arizona Daily Star
March 31, 2008

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mariachi maestro recognized

By Danielle Sottosanti

Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/232085

Many doctorate degrees take years to achieve, but for Davis Bilingual Magnet School teacher Alfredo Valenzuela, earning one was a surprise nearly 40 years in the making.

In May, the University of Arizona's College of Education will give Valenzuela, 62, an honorary doctorate degree in music education. Valenzuela, who has been an educator for 39 years, is well known for his work teaching mariachi music to children.

Though he has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in elementary administration from the UA, Valenzuela never thought he would get a doctorate.

"Never in my wildest dreams," he said. "I used to see people with doctorate degrees as out of this world."

UA doctoral student Karen Ellinwood and professor Luis Moll, who was then the College of Education's associate dean for academic affairs, worked together to draft the Department of Language, Reading and Culture's nomination of Valenzuela for the honorary degree.

"There's just something very special and unique in Mr. V.," Ellinwood said.

"Maybe it's his humility. He just wants to be part of these children's lives in a positive way," she said. "That kind of stuck with me."

"Mr. V. has impacted thousands of children's lives, nurturing their self-confidence, integrity, discipline, and a love for learning, and instilling pride, enthusiasm and commitment palpable in every performance," the department's nomination to the College of Education reads.

The nomination of Valenzuela went up through the ranks of the university, and was approved at each level. The UA Faculty Senate gave its final approval in February.

Ellinwood has firsthand knowledge of Valenzuela as a teacher, since he taught mariachi music to her daughter, Arizpe, while she was a student at Davis.

But to write the nomination, Ellinwood went beyond that parent-teacher connection to interview people in the community whom Valenzuela had inspired.

They include Pueblo Magnet High School's mariachi director John Contreras and Steven Holmes, Tucson Unified School District's teaching and learning assistant superintendent.

Numerous organizations have honored Valenzuela, including Chicanos Por La Causa, the UA College of Education and the Arizona Association for Bilingual Education.

His image is a permanent part of the community as well. Wearing a sombrero and a smile, he's depicted in a mural at David G. Herrera and Ramon Quiroz Park, 600 W. St. Mary's Road.

The park is near Davis Bilingual Magnet School, 500 W. St. Mary's Road, where Valenzuela works part time as a music specialist, though retired.

"You get a sense of something special going on here in the sense that, it's not only us who recognize what Mr. Valenzuela has done. It's everybody outside of the school alumni and people who know him who recognize what he does and what kind of person he is," said Davis Principal Christopher Loya.

Valenzuela teaches music at the school, which focuses on dual Spanish and English education, both during the regular school day and as part of the school's extended-day program.

"The music, since most of it is in Spanish, helps support the dual-language program. Obviously, the benefits are tremendous," Loya said.

There are 72 performers in the mariachi group at Davis, which Valenzuela said he divides into three smaller groups.

"He's a really nice teacher. He shows us the songs and teaches us a lot," said Davis mariachi violinist Jailene Rodriguez, 9.

"If you don't understand something, he explains it to us," she said. Her sister Gizelle, 10, is also in the mariachi class.

● Contact reporter Danielle Sottosanti at 618-1922 or at dsottosanti@azstarnet.com.