CWU News

CWU professor draws on background to help students from like circumstances

 CWU education professor Keith Reyes, surrounded by Grandview High School students. Student demographics across the country are rapidly changing. In response, more teacher reflecting cultural diversity are needed. CWU, which has an established record for developing top-quality teachers, is now helping develop ways to diversify the teacher workforce.

“Right now, I’m working with the Grandview and Mabton School Districts, which are 93 percent and 98 percent Hispanic, to develop ‘Grow Your Own’ teaching academies,” said CWU education professor, Keith Reyes. “They would identify students within those communities who have interest in and aptitude for teaching and then cultivate and foster them to realize their dreams.”

Reyes and Eric Hougan, from CWU-Des Moines, are establishing those academies founded on research that has determined that when there is a demographic match between teachers and their students, more positive outcomes result for students of color. They include in test scores and on discipline.

Reyes, who teaches courses pertaining to multiculturalism, educational leadership and administration, also knows firsthand about the important role of education to a minority student’s success, which he, himself, had to navigate.

“I dropped out of school at age 17 as a result of my economic and domestic circumstances--as well as my own ignorance and pride,” Reyes noted.

Reyes and his three younger brothers grew up in a high-poverty barrio in El Paso, Texas. His mother, who was an immigrant from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, dropped out of high school after learning she was pregnant with him.

Reyes candidly referred to his father as emotionally and physically abusive, who struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, unemployment, and numerous jail sentences.

“He was a terrible role model in terms of being what a healthy, adult male should be,” said Reyes. “I wrecked my life pretty badly based on the template he had given me. I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after hitting the very bottom of the barrel.”

Which happened when Reyes was serving a jail term for possession of marijuana, one of the “cocktail of legal and illegal drugs,” along with alcohol, to which he had turned for relief from his pervading sense of hopelessness and worthlessness.

“I had never understood that I had some kind of intellectual capacity or merit—I had never been told that,” he recalled. “Once I did go on to college, there were a few individuals who actually saw that I had some potential and they told me that I was pretty smart.”

Initially, he thought he would become a Baptist minister, “but over time it became clear to me that there was work for me outside of the ministry. By then, I was too close to my degree to start over.”

So he earned his bachelor’s degree in practical theology and then began working informally at a private school. Realizing that teaching was the field for him, he went on to pursue a school administrator license, and multiple certifications, including in bilingual education and social studies.

Reyes would also earn a master’s degree in sociology, and a Doctorate of Education in educational leadership, which led to a career in school administration.

“When I became a principal, I felt that I was going back to save myself over-and-over again,” he explained. “I really did see myself in so many students, irrespective of race, ethnicity, and even gender. That was the motivation that kept me in the public school system for as long as it did.”

His career includes five years in pre-kindergarten through high school classrooms, and eight others in colleges and universities. He sought employment within higher education once he realized that he could even extend his life-saving calling, with the help of others.

“If I’m a principal of 450 students, I can reach 450 students,” he said. “But if I’m a professor to 30 classroom teachers, with 30 students of their own, then I’m exponentially amplifying my reach. It gives me the ability to impact the lives of children who I may never meet personally but will be helped by the teachers with whom I now work.”

Before coming to CWU, Reyes was a Chicano and ethnic studies, and sociology instructor and advisor at Yakima Valley College, where he was named the school’s 2010 Teacher of the Year. He also spent several others years in other community college and university settings, and provided online instruction too.

At CWU, his research now focuses on educational inequity, including policies and practices within K-20 schooling that lead to the educational gap and unequal educational outcomes for various groups of students, “especially bilingual students and students from diverse cultural backgrounds,” he noted.

“There are structural impediments and challenges to the daily lives of racial minorities, those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, even females, at various points in life that make their educational goal attainment very difficult,” he said. “But I do think, overall, that there is much more awareness of the importance of education, including higher education, by students of today—particularly Mexican-American, Latino, and Hispanic youth.”

Reyes views his research, presented both nationally and regionally at educational leadership conferences, as simply part of the larger expectation he has for himself and his career.

“My life is to serve other people and help other people find their purpose, just like I was able to find mine,” he said, “to find value in one’s self, in what someone does that dignifies them and lift other people up.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,