UNCG Research

Real World English

Working with immigrant parents to help Latino kids succeed


Posted on Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 by UNCG Research.

Participants in the Real World English program work with a host of university and community volunteers. (Photo provided by the Real World English program)

Redacted from “Breaking down Barriers,” a fall 2016 Research Magazine feature

A chance encounter between Kattya Castellón, associate director of admissions at UNCG, and a Greensboro middle school parent in 2014 spawned a Latino outreach program that is rapidly growing thanks to the enthusiasm of a host of university and community partners.

UNCG’s Real World English program teaches Latino parents to speak English so that they may in turn help their children plan to attend college. It’s what’s known as a two-generational approach to education. It addresses a common problem for immigrant parents – arranging care for their children – by offering classes for their kids while they attend classes in the same location.

Activities for children in the program focus on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math – and, above all, exploration.

“As long as their kids are taken care of, parents enjoy having their own time to learn,” says Dr. Barbara Levin, a professor in UNCG’s School of Education. Parents emerge as role models because “their children, from little bitty to teenagers, see their efforts and their growth.”

University faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students initially worked with families at Allen Middle School and then reached out to families from Falkener Elementary School as well. They plan to continue to extend their work to families from other local schools.

Principals and teachers at the schools have embraced the program, which also relies upon faculty, staff, and students from six departments at UNCG. Other partners include the university’s Coalition for Diverse Language Communities (CDLC) and the Center for New North Carolinians, as well as outside groups such as AmeriCorps and the Guilford County Schools’ Parent Academy.

Levin (left), seen here at a Real World English event, is one of the leaders of the project as well as a founder of the UNCG Coalition for Diverse Language Communities.

Levin, pictured here at a Real World English event (left), is one of the leaders of the project as well as a founder of the UNCG Coalition for Diverse Language Communities. (Photo provided by the Real World English program)

The CDLC provided $3,000 in startup funding for the program after Natasha Pace, an Allen Middle School parent and grassroots parent organizer with Guilford County Schools, attended a parents’ night presentation by Castellón. When she asked Castellón for help teaching Latino parents to speak English, Castellón and her UNCG colleagues embraced the opportunity and began classes in 2015.

As with the development and staffing of the program, continued funding has been a collaborative effort. Dollar General Corp. provided a grant of $15,000 for the program while UNCG provided $3,000 through the University School Teacher Education Partnership. Aaron Rents in Greensboro gave $500 to the program.

As its name implies, the program is based upon the everyday language skills parents need to talk to their children and teachers about school. “Many parents can’t help their kids with homework,” explains Carol Zegarra, an English teacher at Allen Middle School and a volunteer in the Real World English program.

“The enthusiastic participation debunks a stereotype about parents who are not American-born,” says Dr. Jewell Cooper, professor and associate dean in UNCG’s School of Education. Cooper leads the program with Levin, associate professor Ye He, and Dr. Melissa Bocci, who began work with the program as a graduate student.

“They have an earnest desire to want to understand the educational process,” Cooper says, “and they want to help their children succeed.”

Redacted from “Breaking down Barriers,” a fall 2016 Research Magazine feature by Chris Burritt.