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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.
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  • Education


Mercedes McCurley, a native Colombian, works as an interpreter for the ESL (English as a Second Language) program at Durham Public Schools in Durham, N.C. Upon starting her work in 2006, she quickly realized that Latino parents need more than just basic translation; they lack basic knowledge of how the American public school system works and many have very little traditional academic education in their country of origin. Because of her close work with Latino families in schools, McCurley is uniquely suited to provide insight into key challenges that Latino immigrants and Latino children face in their interactions with our education system. She begins the interview by describing how she came to work for Durham County Public Schools in 2006 (having previously worked as a Parent Educator in Fort Worth, Texas) and how she has intentionally shifted her focus and augmented her role to serve Latino parents and students. Above all, McCurley emphasizes the discrepancies she discovered between teachers and administrators and Latino parents, many of whom have very little academic education, cannot read (often even in Spanish) and do not speak English. She describes how she and a colleague expanded their role as ESL interpreters by creating specialized parent workshops to help parents better understand the school system and to help parents realize that they do have knowledge and tools that they can share with their children, even if these are not traditional book learning and homework assistance. Ultimately, McCurley asserts that there is a “mutual deficiency” between Latino parents not having a basic understanding of the school system and American educators knowing very little about the experiences and knowledge that Latino parents bring to the table. She advocates a grassroots change to improve the situation, where Latino parents teach their children what they know and Latino students can then apply this family knowledge to what they learn in school. In addition, McCurley argues for more hands-on teacher training so that educators with Latino students understand more about their students’ family backgrounds and experiences.

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