Mercedes McCurley

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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.



Claire Archer: Alright, I’m here with Mercedes McCurley, who is – works in the ESL Department in Durham Public Schools. It is April 4th around 1:15 and we are in – we’re at 2107 Hillandale Road. What do you call this?
Mercedes McCurley: Staff Development Center.
CA: Staff Development Center. Ok, so to begin I guess if you could just describe, you know, your personal history, how you came to work for Durham Schools, how you came to work for this department, anything you want to tell me about your personal involvement and what you do on a daily basis.
MC: I came to North Carolina from Texas, even though I’m from Colombia, South America, but lived in Texas for 18 years. And in Texas, I was working – my last position in Texas with the Fort Worth ISD, the Fort Worth Independent School District. I was a Parent Educator and really loved that – that was probably like my favorite job because it was a job that I had direct contact with the parents versus before having to work with the students. So I found it really interesting, so when this position as an interpreter--. Let’s see, so we moved to North Carolina and in 2004, and started this job in 2006. The job position, the posting was for an interpreter, so it was like interesting, let’s go on this, be an interpreter for Durham Public Schools. When the job started, I figured out really, really fast that just being an interpreter was not going to do it because the discrepancies between the – I don’t want to call it knowledge because it’s not, you know, a lack of knowledge, but a lack of understanding of the system between the people providing the information and the people receiving the information. There was this huge gap. A huge gap of just actually being able to take that information, digest it, and being able to apply it and use it. And we – my coworker and I – that started the job at the same time – we had to sit down and go, “How are you doing this? Are you just kinda repeating what they’re saying, but are you looking at the parents and are the parents understanding? Even though we’re speaking Spanish to them, are they actually understanding what you’re saying?”
CA: Right.
MC: And we agreed that our parents we not understanding what we were saying. They were understanding the language, they were understanding the words, they were understanding the Spanish that we were speaking, but not really being able to use that information. And so we started trying to explain. I used, you know – explain what the staff member, the teacher, the administrator, what they were saying. We started expanding upon that information. So pretty soon after that we started getting complaints from the school district. You know, people started saying, “They’re speaking too much, you know, I’m saying, your student’s grade is a 4 and that’s taking me 20 seconds and they’re going on for 2 minutes. And so they’re really not being interpreters. And so, what is the role? What are they doing?” They mainly asked this and then they started trying to stop us from explaining the information to the parents. So we had to fight that a little bit and we had to really help them understand that developmental reading level – that is what they, at that point how we were evaluating reading levels of students – that DRA did not mean anything, that we really needed to pull out a couple of books, and so what we were asking – as interpreters we started asking, “May I see a level 4 and may I see a level 20 so that the parents know what a level 4 looks like and what a level 20 looks like, and why is it that your child is way below reading level.” What does it mean to be a level 4? And we found a lot of resistance to that, but eventually [unintelligible] they understood that that’s what we did. And eventually what we started doing is taking our own materials, because in some cases the teachers just won’t. Like you know, “Oh, I just don’t have any level books here. They’re not here, they’re not available..” So we just started carrying material to support what by then we knew was the information that the parents were receiving. The other thing that we started seeing, because we not only went to one school – that had always been my experience, you know, you work in a school and you see the problems within that institution, that school. You’re always gonna have problems at one level or another. You always think, OK, is this administration, this school, it’s the way they relate at this school level, and what solutions could you have for that school? But you are visiting 15 schools, from pre-K through 12th grade – because we had, we started serving 10 elementary schools, 3 middle and 2 high schools. So we were traveling to all of these schools for any type of thing, parent-school meeting. Any type of – any time the school and the parents had to communicate, we were that person that would go there and facilitate that communication. And so we started seeing, you know, like what some of the endemic kind of problems were throughout the district. We started looking for other resources and how can we help that understanding of what the population that we’re serving really needed from the school. And really learning a lot from the population that we were serving. You know, coming from a middle-class background in Latin America, you know, I grew up with books. I grew up with a dad that always had a book in his hand. You know, my mom wasn’t the reader, she was – I mean, she read and everything, but it was – my dad was that person that always had a book, that we, you know, we belonged to a book club that we got books every month in our house and we had our library and read the newspapers [unintelligible]. So I came from that background even though, you know, I came from Latin America. So when people start talking about Latin America and the lack of reading, I would go, “No no no no, we’re readers.” I mean, Latin American people really love to read. In my family, you know, my whole family, we’re all readers. And so there was this learning curve for me. It was really understanding where the population, the migrant population, that have been coming to North Carolina within the last, I guess now 15, 20 years, where they were coming from. And where – what kind of knowledge they came from. Where did that knowledge – where did they acquire that knowledge? How do they apply the knowledge that they have? And how much of that knowledge came from print? So really then for us, we knew the school system and we had been working with the school system and it’s like, OK, let’s give them information in Spanish, let’s do this. And in many instances we would find another roadblock. Ok, we have the form in Spanish. They’re still not quite getting it. Let’s simplify the language a little bit more. Let’s be really sure we’re simplifying the language of the forms. We would have, you know, the – in most instances, moms, because they always show up to schools, “But I cannot read Spanish.” And so we’re going like, “Whoa, so OK. I really want you to understand what’s going on in this school. You don’t read Spanish, so what else can we do? How can we help you? How can we help you support your student?” So really doing a lot of research in the populations that are coming to Durham. It’s very specific to Durham, you know? That’s the other thing. It’s like, where are these – we have a population that are coming from very rural areas with academic education – and I like to always distinguish that part. It’s like, they have a lot of knowledge but the academic knowledge, the schooling, is very limited. So, first, second grade education. The majority, especially in the female population. Fifth and sixth grade in many of the males. Many females don’t have any school at all and so no reading or writing in Spanish, either. So it’s like, how do we actually help the population? How do we help them understand? How do we help them so that they can actually help the kids? Getting the school to understand that even if you’re sending the homework, and you’re sending the instructions in Spanish, if the parents don’t read, really we need to make adjustments [laughs]. You know, we need to modify.
CA: Right.
MC: The actual methodology and the way teachers are supposed to work in the classroom, that’s where differentiation comes. That where – that’s why we are applying all of this methodology within the educational system. It’s because we have populations even within the United States that have – the parents have a range of academic education. You know, we have a huge range. So it is the job of the teacher to differentiate that homework to go home, so if this parent doesn’t read, that child should be able to do their homework on their own. And once I give you that information, and once the parent gives you the information, then you as the teacher need to make the adjustments. So then having gotten to that point of there are these questions, essential questions that we need to ask the parents. Do you read in Spanish? Do you read in English? What is your level of reading in English? And then we can communicate that to a teacher and then we say, “OK, this parent – this is what you need to do with this student. This parent is going to support you and we’re going to give them other tools other than reading the 20 minutes every night. Because we will go to a teacher [unintelligible] suggesting that she [the parent] doesn’t read in English and Spanish. “And remind her to read with her child 20 minutes a night.” “Remember Ms. Such and Such that the mom doesn’t read.” “Oh, but reading is so important. You know, just 20 minutes…” [laughs] “Research says that reading 20 minutes every night— “ And you want to go “Ok-- [laughs]
CA: [Laughs]
MC: --did you hear what I just said?” because this is something really personal for someone to share with you. For an adult to let you know that you’re a non-reader is, you know, that’s generally when tears start coming. It’s like, you know – by that time – we’re always shoving papers at people. Here’s some more information, here’s some more information, and so we start seeing that physical discomfort of the person and you have to start reading some body language and then you kind of have to slow down and allow them to, to share something with you that is very personal for an adult to let you know, especially in this society. For a person to say “I can’t read” is a really difficult moment. And so I think it’s also very difficult to even understand that.
CA: Right.
MC: And they don’t hear it. And you’re saying it, and sometimes I go, “Is it my accent?” [laughs] You know, I can go into sarcastic [laughs] “Do you understand me? She doesn’t read.” But, I think it’s hard for people in education to really hear that, even though you’re saying it, they’re hearing it and they’re not understanding “Whoa, I’m gonna have to do something different with this student.” Because the parents is not gonna be able to sit there an re-teach what I didn’t quite teach. That is the purpose of homework. It’s not a practice, it’s a re-teach this concept that your child didn’t get in school. You have to become, you know – and so a difficult situation to convey, to even get started on OK, here we are now. This is the population that we’re serving. These are the parents of 20 percent of our students. Then how can we work with – how can we give them information? What information do we need to actually give them? And how can we help them to help and support the student? That took us almost three years [laughs].
CA: [Laughs]
MC: And we – as a small group of us, a couple of my coworkers and myself – decided we needed to do something different. Because this one to one to one to one, we actually saw – I have 1200 students in the schools that I serve that have been – the families have identified these students as Spanish-speaking, so there is one level of need. Sometimes the parent understands English but they cannot ask the questions. You know, they don’t feel comfortable asking the questions. They may not understand one word of English and, you know, we have to be there. And some of them are at that point that they can communicate but they still want a person there, just in case [laughs].
CA: Uh huh.
MC: Ok, I don’t quite know how to ask this question, so we just, like – also there’s this range of services that we provide to the parents. But each one of us about – we have about 200 students in our caseload. So once we figured out that, you know, one to one to one and trying to give the parents the information and helping them understand protocol: what a Personal Education plan is, what the SAP process is, Student Assistance Program, what an IEP is, you know, if the child has any learning disabilities. We say, you know, maybe we can create some workshops and we can just invite groups of parents and try to get that information in language that the parents will feel comfortable, that we can digest and we can do it 20, 30 parents at a time. So we started creating some reading, math, just plain informational workshops – events for how do you get a summer – how do you get your child into a summer camp? So we did like a summer activity fair that we do once a year. We have run book fairs where we actually do a small book fair here so that the parents really understand how the book fair works. Because what they do is they give the kid 20 dollars, and I don’t know if you’ve been to the schools lately, to any of the book fairs--
CA: I haven’t.
MC: Scholastic has really – their marketing is amazing, but they put all of the books of like princesses and cars, all the Disney shows, on the lower shelves, and they put a lot of like, these gigantic pencils … junk. And the kids that don’t go with their parents to the book fair, that are mostly our population, because the parents don’t actually walk into school and they don’t know how to ask questions. They just give them the 20 dollars, so those kids take reading material that is definitely not appropriate for their reading levels [laughs]. Or, junk. You know, like erasers and pencils that are not really erasers and pencils but they look like erasers and pencils. And so when you have limited resources and when they don’t have books at home, to actually take that 20 dollar bill, and you want to support the school, but you’re not the affluent parent, or the middle class mom that goes to – and you see, so those middle-class, affluent parents go on that day for the book fair, they walk through with their kids and they want out with these really awesome books.
CA: Right.
MC: Our kids take the 20 dollars, because their parents want to support the school and the kids want a book. They go on their own, nobody helps them, and they walk out with, you know, a Batman book that is like, if you tried to read it [laughs] you’d be like “Wow, who wrote this thing?” That no one can read, and it ends up in the trash. So, we thought, if we can show them how the book fair works, so that they actually know when – and if we can tell them, “Go with your kids. You don’t even have to talk to anybody. But you help your kids select more appropriate books.” We’ve done that for the last three years, like have a book fair here where they can actually learn to navigate through a book fair. And then, you go the kid’s school when they have a book fair there. Our educational system is so foreign to our parents, that it just takes a lot of holding hands for a couple of years, and then it’s like, if you’re actually giving them the right information and you actually figure out what information they need, they’re on their own and they’re super strong and they’re like, you know. We have parents that we started working with a couple of years ago. We actually had one mom that would come to our office once a week with everything that she had from the school. She would sit there and we would sit down and go through the information. And she would be there the next week. And the next week. Eventually her kids started getting school projects and she would come and she would sit down in our office and we would help her understand, mainly what the project needed to be. How to do a project. Where to get the poster board [laughs]. This is what poster board looks like. And so, “Oh, OK, I got it.” It went from once a week the first year – we all became first-name basis, everything, to every other week, to now her daughter is in 6th grade and her son is in 4th grade and she calls us about every 6 months. Just when, she knows when to call but she knows the libraries, she knows – her kids know what to do. They know they just go to the library. She knows where to buy materials. She knows what she needs to do to complete a project. She just called the other day because she’s going to enroll her son. She has another, a baby that is gonna be four. So she called me the other day and it’s like, “Wow, he’s really gonna start pre-K.” Because [unintelligible] [laughs]. But it’s like the other two are being able to – she doesn’t need us anymore, and I think that should be – that’s our purpose. To really give them tools so that they can independently work the system. And really understand it on a very individual basis. That holding hands every week because that parent comes from an indigenous community. She’s actually Chatino, so Spanish is the second language. You’re learning a third language. It’s so different. But once you’ve got it, it’s like, she’s fine. That’s – people that are very, very intelligent, very resourceful can apply the knowledge once you, you know –
CA: Right.
MC: --and it’s what I always tell them. It’s like, if you come here, and you come from rural areas, so somebody says, “Hey, can you work in a French restaurant?” They learn by observing. They don’t have to read the recipes, they can just stand right next to you, and if you show them they are the fastest [laughs] learners. I always tell the guys in construction, you know, you have people that come from rural areas where the houses are, you know, very different from houses here. They come to the United States and within, you know, 6 months they’re building and understand materials, understand math, understand – can navigate this whole system, within 6 months. You know how long it would take us? [laughs]
CA: [laughs] I couldn’t do it.
MC: I couldn’t do it. That’s what I always tell them. You know, you guys have to really understand that your abilities are beyond most of ours, and when you truly believe that and then you start actually showing your kids what you know, your kids are gonna be so proud that they’re just going to fly through the school system here. But, because our culture is so about learning through print that in the moment that you’re not a reader, that is our population – reading is not what they do. Then we see them as a problem. “We go, god they don’t read. How are these kids going to learn if they don’t have books at home? If – you know, books are magical.” And I’m like, “Yeah, they are. They’re awesome. I love books, but that is not the only tool that we use as human beings, to learn.”
CA: Right.
MC: Our latest workshops that I have developed for parents is parents are the best teachers, they’re the first teachers. The latest one that is being really effective is: “What do I know? How did I learn it? How do I teach it to my child?” I’m doing one – they just did with a group of parents about corn [unintelligible]. We did a – so the workshop is “OK, what do you know about corn?” And they’re like “Oh my gosh, we know everything about corn!” [laughs] They get too excited, because just in terms of vocabulary throughout Latin America, you know, we have a million words for corn, for the field of corn, for everything. So it’s like… We divide them in 4 groups. One group talked about the cultivation and harvesting of corn. It was the whole process about – the other group talked about the traditional culture of corn, and the other group talked about the product, by-products of corn. And another group just talks about food, what food has corn. It is an amazing experience, because for us, it’s really learning how much this population really knows. They have knowledge beyond, you know, what you and I can really understand. About everything. I mean, you sit down with a group of 40 parents and they will talk about biofuel [laughs] You know? From what’s the distance between, you know – where do you put the seed, and what distance, you know, and the depth. Everything. When to harvest, if you harvest as corn or if you harvest it dry. And they were like comparing and talking about the different techniques, and then of course they start talking about food [laughs].
CA: [laughs]
MC: And it’s like, oh my god. And then they start talking about regional, you know – “I’m from this part of Mexico and this is how we prepare, you know, this and that and that, but in this part of Mexico, they do— “ You know, whatever, I’m not from Mexico [unintelligible]. So at the end of these hour and a half meeting, and then what we do after that is “Ok, how can you teach it to your kids? All that knowledge that you have. And, how can you help them make connections for the EOG?” At the end of those meetings, the parents really come out feeling, “Whoa, I do know a lot and I can – I can share that knowledge that I have.”
CA: Yeah.
MC: Because what we were seeing is that the kids were not – they’re not getting the books at home--
CA: [unintelligible – interrupts]
MC: Are we almost done?
CA: I think I may need to change folders for space.
MC: Ok.
CA: One second.
[Space runs out on Sony IC Recorder, change to iPhone recording.]
CA: Alright, it says recording.
CA: We’ll see if it works. Continue. We were talking about workshops where you sort of gather what parents know, and then show them how they can teach what they know to their children.
MC: So, really it’s like, at this point we’re kind of closing that circle of understanding. Because anyone that’s doing any type of research or anything, they always tell – they always [unintelligible]. What is the population? How are they – how are they navigating the school system? How do we serve the population? I mean, seeing as a problem, you know. Being bilingual in North Carolina still, learning a second language in North Carolina. Really, the language that is coming from the teachers and the school is [unintelligible. Laughs] You know, we don’t know what to do with them, and the kids hear that. The students hear that. It’s like, “It’s hard for my teachers to teach me because I’m learning a second language.” And the kids hear the parents going, “I cannot help you because I don’t know English.”
CA: Right.
MC: I cannot help you. I cannot help you with homework. I cannot help you with anything. You know, it’s like, I can barely read myself. I don’t have time to read. I have two jobs. I get home at 11 o’clock at night. And I don’t have money for books. I don’t have space for books, because, you know, some schools go “OK, let’s just – our solution is to send books home and then you still go to the houses, and you don’t see the books. And so it’s like, oh, but we’ve been sending books home, so where are the books? And so you have a conversation with the parent goes like, “Hey, you know, we are two families in two bedrooms--
CA: Right.
MC: the kids make a mess with those books” [laughs] get out of here or [unintelligible]. They just don’t have the space to have the books. So the kids are in this – in the middle of two worlds that don’t understand each other. And the kids are supposed to make connections to be able to then read and understand what they’re reading. But what I – what I tell the parents is the kids have this kind of empty world where you guys are not reading to them because that’s not a skill that – that’s not your strong skill, but you’re not showing them – I said, you can either read a book about corn, and go through it and look at all the pictures, and this is how you plant it and all of that. You can read it. Or, you can show them how to grow the corn. I said, both ways they’re going to learn. You can either show or you can read, but either way they’re gonna learn that concept.
CA: Right.
MC: The problem with our kids is that for a long time, we were not doing either one. Because I cannot read, and if I cannot read, I cannot teach you. And so, I think that’s finally what we’re at. I mean, because it’s about us knowing how to do our job, you know, to facilitate this for them, because we don’t have kids in the public school system. It’s about facilitating -- it’s understanding who we’re serving.
CA: Right.
MC: And then, as we go, you know. You have all this knowledge. How can we help you understand that you can apply it? For us, in our school system it’s starting to work. It’s – because if three [unintelligible] It’s about the individual family and what you do with your kids in your apartment, when you’re home. As we’re seeing them – really the families that we have worked with for five, six years and we now see them every once in a while. “Good!” and they move on. It’s like “Yes!” [laughs]. It’s all about how you give them the information. So it’s not a deficiency, and I think that’s how I want people to see the population. That is finally what we understand. It’s not that it’s a population that is deficient.
CA: Right.
MC: It’s a population that has learned many skills, that has a lot of knowledge, that has learned in a very, very different way than we have. And that we have a lot to learn from them. You know, I may not always have a book in my hand to be able to figure out something [laughs]. So it’s a skill that I think will be amazing and beneficial for our system to learn from immigrant communities, you know?
CA: Right.
MC: And in learning to respect that part and then applying that, I think that’s what the Common Core is about. Our new curriculum. The new North Carolina curriculum. It’s like, have less teaching and more collaboration in the classroom with the kids. And so, if we can really bring some of the skills that the communities, the immigrant communities from Central America, have, I think we can actually learn a lot from them, instead of feeling that we’re the teachers [laughs]. After six years in the learning mode, it’s like, I think about [unintelligible] that title, as I started, of Parent Educator. Now it’s gone, my vocabulary it’s like [laughs] not any longer. We’re not here to educate, we’re here to just figure out where their base of knowledge comes from and how can we then bring that together to help the kids apply that knowledge, and then be able to read a text and use the knowledge that their families, that they bring from both the school and their families. And be able to apply this.
CA: Right.
MC: Should be really simple [laughs]. But, yeah. So and I think the work has to be done within the system, so that they stop seeing, seeing it as a problem and seeing it more as a – I want the school system—
[Beginning of second 8-minute iPhone segment.]
MC: To really see the value that immigrant communities bring to the system. Including them, emerging that, into the school is one of the things that we were talking to parents about. It’s if you, you know, you are middle class white, upper-middle class, during your vacation [unintelligible] during a spring vacation or winter vacation you may go skiing..
CA: Right.
MC: And so, because the teacher also went skiing, or has gone skiing, when they’re reading, then they go back to that text and go: “Hey, you know, just kinda, like if you go skiing.” And that student, that middle class student, will go, “Yeah, OK. I got it. I understand that.” The immigrant child, that has never gone skiing, is just so much more difficult to understand that – that concept because they may have never seen, you know, the slope or the skis, or [laughs] you know, what is it that you really do? I took – about 4 or 5 years ago – a group of parents, we went to the beach. One of them – they all got in clothes and they didn’t take swimsuits and I was the only one in a swimsuit and I was like so [laughs] [unintelligible]. I felt so uncomfortable because I felt so naked, you know, I felt completely naked with these parents that I had been working with [laughs]. But I was like, OK, I don’t care. I don’t think – it was my daughter and I – no one knew how to swim, and I was like, oh god. Stressful. So they all get in the water, and all fully-dressed, and one of them gets – one of the kids gets water in the mouth and he’s like, “Oh my god, it’s so salty! It tastes horrible” and I’m thinking “Wow, if you never had an experience and then you’re reading about the ocean, and you’re reading about the salinity or the levels, or whatever you’re reading, it’s probably so difficult to understand that concept and to [unintelligible] a cup of sea water in your mouth. And can you remember when’s the first time you went to the ocean. That’s kinda – you know, childhood when you do that trip. So, we know what it is, so when we’re reading, we don’t have to read it – we don’t have to read it 3 times to understand it. So I think it would be super important for teacher training for teachers to learn to make tortillas. You know, if you’re teaching a population, if you’re an ESL teacher, I think that at home, you should make them. Not just pancakes. Because if you talk about pancakes and the kids don’t eat pancakes, then they don’t know pancakes. It’s that visualizing that is not. But if you’re reading a book, breakfast book, you’re kinda like “Yeah!” When your mom makes tortillas, “Ohh, got it.”
CA: Right.
MC: So to be able to make those connections with your students, you have to at one point have some type of either home visits, where you actually go to homes so you know what their home life is. And not just go to restaurant [laughs] but maybe we ask to, you know, get a recipe book [laughs] and cook some Salvadorian or Honduran because you have this population within your classroom. I think it has to be something that we’re gonna have to do to be able to help the students understand, and stop saying that they’re coming deficient, because we’re also deficient. No, it’s mutual. If we wanna call it a deficiency, it’s mutual. And I think we limit ourselves to what we know.
CA: Right.
MC: And that’s what we teach. And so it’s like, “They don’t know this, they have a deficiency. “ I think there should be something in their teacher training, that if you’re teaching migrant populations, then get some knowledge, read some books about it [laughs]. You can read… [unintelligible]
CA: I think it’s very important to, sort of, understand the background and the knowledge-based, like you’re saying. So, I guess, you’ve explained everything so well. Thank you, that was perfect. So I guess, if you could say how you think the school system will change in the future and maybe expand upon what changes you’re currently working on, or just because of the changing Hispanic population, because more students are born here now, if you could just say a little about what the future will hold.
MC: [laughs]
CA: I know, it’s hard. Make a prediction. I’m curious.
MC: And this is very personal because I don’t have a lot of trust in institutions, in that institutions are very open and willing to change. I don’t think that the school system is going to read just unless somebody makes them or something. I really think the change has to be a grassroots change, where the parents are going to have to make those decisions, and I think that the decisions are going to have to come from the families. Those changes are going to have to come from the families. Where – where they actually understand… I think you lose a lot when you migrate. You lose part of who you are. So I think the change has to come back to rebuilding that self-esteem [unintelligible] But I really believe, you know, any time you’re looking at research and about academic success, being low social economical groups – when you see, you know, minority groups, not just immigrant populations, but you know, within the African-American community, within, you know, the low-income populations. You have to feel, you know, “I’m poor, but I’m smart and I can do—“
[Third segment of iPhone recording begins.]
MC: You know, if you give me the tools, I can do this. You know, if I don’t speak English, that doesn’t mean that I’m not brilliant. I can do this if, you know, you give me the tools. So I think it’s that building up that sense of self that could actually turn the tide, and I don’t think that the institution--. Historically, that is not what the institutions do [laughs] You know, we don’t do building people [laughs] people-building. We do – ok, this is more: we’re gonna teach you, and if you come in and you fit in this box, you’re gonna succeed. And if you don’t quite fit, then, you know, you’ll be marginalized forever. So for me to see any change, it has to come within the community. One of the reasons that I continue to want to do this is because when we think about it – people like you and people who are doing research – we only have 7,000 students that have this. It’s like, that’s the population in Durham. That is so doable [laughs] You know? It’s not like when you’re in Texas and you have 50,000 students.
CA: Right.
MC: There’s 7,000. We should be able to do it. We really should be able to really come together with some good research behind us and really create some change. But what we’re doing is we have the highest dropout rate in the state of North Carolina.
CA: Really?
MC: Yes, we do. For Latino students. So that’s what we’re doing. I know we have a population of 7,000 students. We should be able to do a better job. So, it’s gonna have to come from the families. I really believe in parent training, and providing a lot of parent training. The parents are ready. If you invite them to train, they come. They don’t to – that idea that you need to give food, and all of that – our parents, if you’re giving them good information, they don’t care. They don’t even care if I provide water. Because many times they talk about resources and all of that. I always tell them if you’re actually – if you’re giving boring information, give them food so that they walk out and they come back. But if you’re actually giving some good information, they don’t go expecting food. I don’t go expecting food. The fact that you’re poor – I think that’s what we have decided that poor people need. You know, they always say you have to give them food or they won’t come. If you don’t provide food, the families won’t come [laughs]. And I always say, “No, you provide good information, something that they want, they will come and they will [unintelligible].”
CA: Right.
MC: But if you’re doing something that you need numbers, and the information sucks, you better have pizza [laughs]. Because then, you know [laughs] they’ll forget that that information wasn’t good. You have pizza!
CA: That’s a good point [laughs].
MC: They’ll come. I think they’re ready to--. We have seen it in individual families, where they have information and once they know what to do, they’ll do it. But it’s the first time to go to a library here – it’s terrifying. It is terrifying to walk in that door and you find people there and you have to ask a question or where to go, and if you don’t have the language, they won’t go. They really--. But once you, like, you walk them through it, then they’re there and they’re getting books out and they’re doing the whole process. So, it’s that first – those first steps the population needs. A system. But once, once they understand how the system works, they navigate without any problem
CA: Uh huh.
MC: Because they truly are – what do I call them? – just amazing, amazing learners. I mean, they really amazing. They have some really good skills to observe and follow procedures and learn new skills.
CA: Right.
MC: They just don’t read books [laughs].
CA: Well thank you so much. That was all, I mean, that must be the easiest interview I’ve done.
MC: [laughs]
CA: That’s perfect. And so thank you again.
MC: You’re so welcome.
CA: This information was wonderful and so I hope our recording works. I don’t know how to turn this off.