Magda Corredor

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Magda Corredor has worked at Durham Public Schools in Durham, N.C. since 2000 as a school counselor. Because she is bilingual in English and Spanish, she works primarily with Latino students and families. Corredor works primarily as an interpreter during parent-teacher conferences and at meetings for the Exceptional Children's Program, which serves students with special needs and learning disabilities. Because of her close work with Latinos in schools, Corredor is able to provide insight into key challenges that Latino immigrants and Latino children face in their interactions with our education system. She describes her experiences working in Durham Public Schools, emphasizing her role as a “bridge” between different languages and different cultures. Latino parents are usually not aware of the resources available to them and their rights, so Corredor often takes on the role of advocate for students who require additional attention and resources. She describes several particularly challenging cases that she has dealt with recently and demonstrates how they are indicative of greater problems facing Latino parents, particularly immigrant parents who often have little education themselves, cannot speak English and are under-employed. For the future, Corredor recommends developing more varied resources to assist Latino parents, including English classes, parenting classes and classes to teach parents about the resources available to them. However, she is not optimistic for the future because she sees a serious lack of funding and impending budget cuts for education in the future.



Claire Archer: Alright, recording. So, to start off my name is Claire Archer and I’m interviewing Magda Corredor. You are a counselor for the Durham Public School System and it is March 22, Friday. We’re in the University of North Carolina Student Union. Alright, and so, I guess to begin, I have given Magda the oral, or written consent form and so, I guess to start off, could you just describe what you do with the school system and what you do on a daily basis?
Magda Corredor: Ok, let me tell you a little bit of my, my work history with Durham Public Schools. I have a degree in school counseling and also in school psychology and I started working with Durham Public schools since 2000, so that’s almost 13 years now. And I started working as a school counselor having the regular job description as any counselor has in the school system. And because I’m a native speaker of Spanish and also I am bilingual and I consider myself bicultural, I did not want to just do, just do regular duties of a, you know, native speaker. But because I found out that there is a, there is an, increasing population of Hispanic students and families and so forth, I wanted to, to [work in] a situation or position where I would be more directly in contact with the Hispanic population. And so I started serving the Hispanic population and one basic thing is that breaking the language barrier, but also there is a lot of breaking the cultural barriers in trying to be a bridge between the parents and the teachers in educating both …. And then I moved to a position where I would be mostly interpreting for the school system at meetings for the Exceptional Children’s Program.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: Where they deal with the cases of students who have special needs, which is a more specialized field because it was -- there are so many cases of students who have cases of special needs. And parents often have a harder time understanding the resources, their rights, and also the services that are available to them. So I was in that position and I had to go around many schools in Durham, and that was an interesting position because I was able to reach many Hispanic parents.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: From different places in Durham and also I was able to meet different schools and also teams. So that gave me a very broad perspective of the school system and the issues of the parents and so forth. And this, this work actually inspired me to write a little handbook for parents in Spanish, to help them understand how the school system in the US works, because I was at these meetings and there we were, and you know, I put myself in the parents’ situation, getting all this information full of acronyms and technical terms and everything. And so I, I start thinking, you know, this would really help them understand in much simpler ways what their rights are, what happens, you know, in different situations, and basically how the school system works. And also, when -- when children don’t meet expectations, so what resources are available and what procedures does the school system have to meet their needs. And so I have been working a lot in situations where I have been focusing on serving the Hispanic population. Right now I am at a school that actually, the principal, wants me to focus mostly on the Hispanics because the need is big, and I do all sorts of things. I, well I -- there’s materials that I need to translate, you know, letters that go out, or notes from the teachers and so forth. But also, I am in charge of what is called the Student Assistance Program, which is a protocol that Durham Public Schools has. When students are not performing at expectations, and after the teachers have done -- you know, done numerous things in the classroom and the difficulties persist, and there is some suspicion that the student may have a learning disability or any other disabilities -- we have a team that includes the parent, the teachers, and we have some input from the Exceptional Children’s Department. We look at the situation and we have to come up with a plan that is called an Intervention Plan, where we choose additional strategies for targeted areas of deficit. And so, we have this meeting and we create this plan and we meet again in, in about 4 to 6 weeks and we see how the student is doing. And at that point we need to make a decision where to continue providing strategies or to refer the case to the Exceptional Children’s Program. And so that’s one of the things that I do. So example to give you -- recent examples of cases. There is a student who has hearing loss and he’s in fourth grade, and he’s performing at a second grade level. The parent has been, has been trying, you know, to get support and services for her child but there is different things that happen, and so the difficulty with communicating, the not knowing the system, the not knowing how to really navigate through the system and all of that, produces situations where children are basically neglected. So I finally was able to talk with the mother and she brought the paperwork that she needed to bring. And the case, the student is one …. actually receiving more attention. So that is one thing that I do, and I do that for the Hispanic students only because there’s -- at my school there is another counselor, so we divided. She deals with the English-speaking students and I deal with the Spanish-speaking families and children, so that is one of the things I do. And that actually takes, takes quite a lot of time, because you have to do observations and talk to the teachers and do paperwork and all of that. And usually I have parents who come in and consult about different things. You know, they come in and want to talk about concerns that they have about their children, and I also, I’m also part of the parent-teacher conferences from teachers.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: I schedule the conferences and I sit at the conference and I not only do the interpreting but I also add to the parents and families. Again, I serve as a bridge and with my experience I can, you know, contribute with ideas to parents on how to help their children and also teachers on how to understand their family situation and so forth. So that’s the -- that takes a lot of time because there is many parent-teacher conferences happening, you know. Teachers have concerns or parents call me, for requesting parent-teacher conferences. So that, I would say that that’s like the bulk of what I do.
CA: Right.
MC: Yeah. At the school.
CA: Well thank you. Thank you for sharing all of that. I guess that leads me to the question. You said you work with the Spanish-speaking students and parents in the exceptional program, and so, do you know the breakdown of Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students that come through that program? Or do you see that more Hispanic speaking students end up needing special assistance because they face language barriers as well?
MC: Well, I’ll tell you. I haven’t seen any statistics on this topic, but I would -- I don’t see an outstanding difference between the English-speaking and the Latino students. And one of the -- one of the reasons is because the -- the challenges that Spanish- speaking students face don’t come necessarily from being English learners.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: I -- I see that both, in both populations, there are kids who excel but also kids who have more difficulties. The ones who have more difficulties may have a harder time getting the services they need because there is always a question: is it because of language or is it truly a learning disability? And the system has a test that needs to be administered to any student who’s going through this process. To, you know -- it’s a piece of information that they use to determine whether, which language is dominant: English or Spanish. And the way, at least in Durham, because each system is different and I -- I also do interpreting for the Chapel Hill and Carrboro School System and I see there is a huge difference in resources. And I see how the children in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, the schools have more specialists, more additional resources teachers to help these students, while Durham doesn’t. And in my experience I -- every year I hear this, you know, that there is going to be budget cuts and there’s going to be less teachers and less assistants and so forth. And I know that happens, it’s happening, you know, across the board, but I do see the difference in… there’s more teachers to, resource teachers, helping the students who have difficulties.
CA: So, what would you say, then, based on your experience -- and I guess you’ve had some experience in Carrboro-Chapel Hill as well. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Latino families in the public school system in North Carolina, or in this area?
MC: Well, the typical immigrant parent in the school system is someone who has come through the border, who has been under -- neglected I would say, by their own system. They usually don’t go beyond sixth grade, and sometimes even lower. Plus, they don’t speak English, oftentimes. I would say the majority of them don’t -- don’t speak English. They have a hard life because they, they work a lot. Long hours.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: And the fact that they don’t -- their educational capital is low -- impacts their ability to help the kids at the school, with the schoolwork and homework and everything. So, they do not have the support, even though some parents do try, but they complain that they don’t -- that they don’t speak English therefore they can’t do homework with them, or they can’t read with them. So I think that that’s a disadvantage that these students have.
CA: And so what resources currently exist for Latino families in the school system? I know that you’re trying to expand those resources, but I guess, what is the existing infrastructure, what is the process for immigrant families coming in?
MC: Well, nowadays, Durham Public Schools has an ESL department. And so they deal with all the needs of the Hispanics. Mostly by having interpreters, which is one step forward. And so, but, there are not enough interpreters anyway. But at least, some interpreters are assigned to schools and they come, and they translate things and so forth. But then the way I see it is that because most parents don’t have an education themselves, they sometimes, you know, you send letters home, and you ask the parents and they don’t read the letters. Or they don’t follow up with things. And so that’s -- that can be, you know, frustrating. But one thing I get from the parents is that they definitely want the kids to do well in school. That’s one of the reasons they say that they’re here and want to stay here, because they want their children to have better future. And so I would that Durham Public Schools is making an effort in provide interpreters and they have created a whole ESL department. Some principals, like my principal, for example -- she really values having someone to be able to communicate and serve the Hispanic parents. So, I would say that the resources that I see, that the school system as a whole has for the students … And they organize, like, district-wide events, informative events and different things. So it’s not just about interpreting but also about educating the parents.
CA: Is there any sort of program that works with English-speaking parents? Because you mentioned serving as a linguistic bridge and as a cultural bridge, and so I’m wondering in terms of, like, acting as a cultural bridge, what sort of things has the school system instituted because of the changing demographics in the schools. Are there programs for Hispanic parents and English speaking parents?
MC: Uhhh….. you mean different? ….
CA: Right. I mean, I don’t know if they’ve thought of doing a program like this. I guess I’m speaking from the experience of having, like, immigrant integration programs in countries, where the government will institute a program to, sort of, have the citizens be prepared for the immigrants coming in, through cultural awareness. So I’m wondering if there’s anything like that for English-speaking parents, to sort of accommodate the Spanish-speaking students.
MC: No…no.
CA: Ok. I was curious.
MC: Like, to help English speaking parents understand the Hispanics better?
CA: Yes, and just sort of encourage understanding among both groups.
MC: No. They don’t get to do that.
CA: Ok. And so, if immigrant parents are interested to have their children succeed in school, do you find that their legal status affects how they interact with the school system? Such as, are parents who have papers and are here working legally, are they more involved in the school system, as opposed to parents who do not have papers?
MC: No, I would say no. I don’t see a difference. I would say that the majority of parents are undocumented. But that is not supposed to impact their participation at the school. And one of the things is that at the school, we are not supposed to ask them for their immigration status. That is -- that is illegal. We are not supposed to ask a parent. Now, their children are supposed to bring us their Social Security Card when they register, but if they don’t have it, it’s that they are given a different number.
And I think parents know that their children have the right to go to school, no matter … Lately I have not seen as many kids who are coming to the United States recently, as it used to be the case. I would say like maybe five years, I still ran into cases where the child came in undocumented, but nowadays, it’s most -- there are children who still don’t have documents, but more and more, children are being born here and they have documents. But the parents don’t.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: So I would say, most of the parents don’t have documentation.
CA: And as someone who has worked with the schools for many years, what other changes have you noticed over the time that you’ve worked here? Sort of, in changes in the demographic composition of the schools, and then changes in the Hispanic speaking population as well, more generally.
MC: Well, the change that is more, more noticeable is that it’s a growing, it’s a growing population. It’s definitely growing. But I haven’t seen a lot -- noticed any major changes in the profile. As I said before, the typical profile is that they come mostly from rural areas, under-educated, under-employed, even in their own countries.
CA: We’ve learned in class how in some school systems it’s particularly difficult for people -- immigrants coming from Mexico, who, they appear Mexican, but they speak an indigenous language. And so, what do you encounter in your experience in Durham with indigenous languages, who, when they come here, they have to learn Spanish and English, because they’re expected to speak Spanish, but they don’t actually speak that language.
MC: I’ll tell you what. I do know that situation. But, very rarely a parent who comes from an indigenous roots who doesn’t speak Spanish. Because, they live in a Spanish-speaking country, and many of them do speak at least some Spanish. Some parents do even speak with an accent. But I have run into any parents who don’t speak any -- any Spanish.
Yeah, and there is a misunderstanding … from the staff, because people, nowadays, I think people are learning more and more. They know that in Mexico there is people who speak other languages as a native language and so forth. But again, most people do speak Spanish. I have not encountered any parents who frankly don’t speak any Spanish. They do speak some Spanish, at least.
CA: Do you find that, generally, Spanish-speaking students perform worse by, I guess, traditional testing, standardized testing, etc. than English-speaking students? Is there a general trend?
MC: No, I don’t see that trend, and actually, you know, the schools also have a program that is called the AIG program. Are you familiar with it?
CA: I’ve heard of that.
MC: And I’m always, I’m very curious of how many students are there in those programs. I think that more and more students, at least in my school -- I, you know, I see the groups -- I see quite a good number of Hispanic students in those programs. And when I sit in the parent-teacher conferences also find out that some students are reported to be, you know, above expectations. And so, I don’t see a trend. And one thing I need to tell you is that -- about the demographics in my school. It’s a school that is mostly African American.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: About close to 30 percent Hispanic and a few Caucasians. And, my understanding is that both African and Hispanic populations shares certain circumstances that impact their educational achievements. Like poverty, stress in the family, which Hispanics experience in a different way. But there are -- that situation occurs with African American students too. The difference is that there is no cultural barrier for them. But they have a lot of struggles too. Yeah.
CA: There are no dual language programs in your school.
MC: In -- not in my school. But I know that Durham has a few schools.
CA: Have you heard anything about the relative success of those for Hispanic speaking students?
MC: Not really. I was interpreting at a dual language school in Chapel Hill, which is a Chinese. It’s Glenwood, I think. It’s Glenwood Elementary. And this was an interesting case of this particular student. She’s, born here but her parents are Hispanic, are from Mexico. And she was having a very hard time learning Chinese, and she used to actually do very well when math was taught in English, not even in Spanish, in English. And when she’s placed in the dual language academy, she was having a lot of difficulties. But that’s not a case that would fit into this project, I guess.
CA: Right.
MC: It’s just a particular case. But I was -- it was interesting to me to find out, because she was, she is, the daughter of immigrant parents as I have described. Hard -working, not -- I mean, under-educated -- struggling here, undocumented. So she was in that particular situation in--. Probably she was at this school because she lives near the school, not because the parents chose her to go to this Chinese dual language.
CA: Right. Actually, could you explain a little more -- you said it was the AIG program?
MC: Yes, the AIG program. It means Advanced and Intellectually Gifted.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: Yeah, and that’s for children who perform above the average expectations. And they have to be referred by their teachers and there is a whole process and they have to do some tests, and they have to have certain grades, and meet certain numbers, so that they’re admitted. Because by law, the students who have special needs, they’re considered to have special needs because they are gifted, according to their definition. So, the ones who have deficits, and the ones who have gifts, so to speak, need to be served in different ways. And the AIG students usually have additional classes with an AIG teacher. And they have projects and they have field trips and things. And I actually, I dealt with a situation of an AIG Hispanic student recently. Her mother was concerned because she was feeling that that program was very demanding for her, and she wanted to quit. And so I talked to the teacher and -- and the student just did not want to continue in the AIG program. The teacher said that it would be -- she would be sorry because this particular student had very, very good grades. She got, you know, very high percentages in the testing and so forth. And, and I was thinking to myself, you know, this is a child who does not have any special circumstances, like her parents are just regular, even her mother is a single parent. They don’t have the means to provide her with extra, you know, experiences, and I think that they don’t even have computers at home. And yet the student is excellent.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: So that leads me to think, you know, and, and she’s not the only one. And I do understand, and I believe that the environment that you grow in and the resources and the support that you have make a difference in how much you, you know -- and how well you perform, and your achievement. But there are cases that I see where these kids come from basically similar circumstances and are very talented. They do very well in school.
CA: Do you have other, I guess, examples of cases that were particularly difficult for you or for parents, or particularly successful?
MC: Difficult… Well, yes, I can think of one case that was difficult to handle. This is a parent who actually, I think she’s from indigenous background, but she speak -- she speaks Spanish rather well. This child has mental retardation. And so she had a very hard time. But the kid was in a placement where he was given special instruction and so forth. But this, in my view -- apparently something had happened that made her think or believe that the child had been abused? So she was very suspicious of the school and she wanted to be very much surveilling and in control of everything that the child was doing. I used to feel that that was a challenging situation because I thought that the mother -- I think she was overreacting.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: In my view. So that was a difficult situation to deal with. But in my view, the child was, you know, was in the classroom that he needed to be in. He was getting the service that he needed to have. Now, difficult cases. I do experience difficult cases when trying to move students to the Exception Children’s Department.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: When they don’t have like an outstanding -- or this is an extenuating case -- so that the student, for example, is not mentally retarded, or has another significant disability. But there are quite a few cases of students who have learning disabilities and I see some reluctance form the Exceptional Children’s Program to test these students, to use the appropriate testing with these students. And to look at their needs.
However, I do see quite a good number of students who get special services for learning disabilities. And one of the problems is that the parents don’t know their rights but also, they’re, they’re not used to -- and they don’t know how to complain, or they don’t know how to get services their children need. And that’s a big difference between the native speakers or the natives versus the parents of children who speak Spanish. When English is a second language.
CA: And do--.
MC: -- the lack of knowledge of the school system, the resources and how to go about getting them.
CA: So you said that you addressed that in your handbook for parents. So I guess, what did the handbook cover in more detail?
MC: It actually covered what their rights are. And also what happens when a student has difficulties at school, and, you know, what they should do, what they can expect. But one thing is for them to know, and then the other thing is that -- how does that sometimes react to their expectations? That’s where I see that the -- that there is a roadblock for the parents and that’s where I see myself also playing the role of the advocate. That I need to do frequently, frankly. I have to, you know, confront even the EC Department and say, well, this child, you know, has these needs and he has been in the school since kindergarten and he’s in fourth grade now. It’s -- and he’s performing at second grade level, this and that. And there’s a lot of little problems that they have to overcome, the parents. But in my experience, for the most part, people in higher positions are very supportive of having these children, you know, tested for learning disabilities.
CA: Then, a follow up question to your talking about the Student Assistance Program, and you say how a team formulates an Intervention Plan. And so, how do these typically work? Are they used in a normal classroom, and what is the involvement of the family, and the teacher, and the student himself, in these plans?
MC: Well these plans, essentially, address the academic needs. Because there is a step that is before the SAP, which is called the PEP. And that is when students are performing below expectations, teachers are supposed to start a Personalized Educational Program, that will address the deficits in the specific area. And so, when they come to SAP, they have, they must have completed a PEP for at least 6 weeks. And the parents are involved at the PEP level. But then there’s problems, trouble finding the parents because one common thing that happens is that parents’ phone numbers change a lot. They’re not in service a lot, so it’s not always easy to contact the parents. And they claim that they don’t pay the bill, so their numbers are disconnected and things like that. Or, parents have, sometimes, difficulties coming because of work. So the communication with the parents sometimes is not easy. But, for the most part, parents do make an effort and come when we can reach them. And the intervention plan at the SAP level is pretty much focused on the academic area. For example, reading or math. Usually it’s reading and math, writing. Reading involves basic skills and comprehension and so the interventions are on those subjects.
CA: Ok.
MC: And the interventions are implemented by the teachers.
CA: Alright and so, knowing what you do about the shortcomings and the positives of the programs going on in Durham Schools right now, and also just the changing Spanish-speaking population – especially as more students are born in the United States – how do you see the school changing in the future? Or what programs do you think will be necessary in the future?
MC: Well to be honest with you, I am not very optimistic because, because I -- in my view, not only the Hispanic students are being affected by the shortages in budgets and less teacher assistance, and less resource teachers and all that. And I think that affects not only the Hispanic students but all of them.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: And I would say that offering more programs for parents, for Hispanic parents, for example. Having more resources available, to provide classes for parents. And I have seen the decrease of resources for parents. Basically because there is no money.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: There are programs -- there is one program that I really like, which is called Incredible Years. And it offers parents parenting – it’s a parenting class. But there is less and less of those classes because there is no money for offering those classes. I would say offering more training for parents. Parents would like to learn English, parents would like -- some parents even would like to improve their literacy skills so they can help their kids better. I see that, the struggles that they face are common struggles of people who are affected by the situation they are coming with. Situation …. that is occurring. That is the government is not really investing much in education in general. Investing in other things, and not in education. And that affects everybody. So if you ask me about programs, yes, there are many programs that could be implemented. You know, specifically for Hispanics, like offering them English classes. But the other thing is that not many parents come to these meetings. And I’m not only referring to the Hispanics. Sometimes there are more Hispanic parents at these meetings than non-Hispanics.
CA: Hmm.
MC: I know, for example, that they’re now offering some classes on how to fill a job application. Key -- key-boarding. What else? How to have a more effective parent-teacher conference. Even here in Chapel Hill, in Carrboro, they have this program that is called Parent University, and I know because I’m usually called as an interpreter. There have been at least two lately that no – zero – parents come. Very few parents come.
CA: And what does Parent University aim to teach if parents--.
MC: To provide all these opportunities for training. All kinds. All kinds. For example, on parenting, or for example, the last one I was at -- two of them. How to motivate your children, how to help your children with homework, and that applies to all of them. Things like that. And very few parents come to these classes, and there’s a lot of resources going into these classes. And I, and sometimes -- I was at one where there was one African American parent and one Hispanic parent, the two presenters and myself, as an interpreter.
CA: Wow.
MC: Hmm. So I see that something … parents are not prone to coming to those classes.
CA: Hmm. That is upsetting.
MC: Yeah.
CA: Alright, well, that’s really all the questions I have for you. Unless, do you have anything else to add?
MC: Well, I would maybe, maybe I would ask -- your thesis is actually on dual language programs in Barcelona, not here.
CA: Right. My thesis for my undergrad education. But through Dr. Gill’s class I’m sort of interested in language and education, more than--.
MC: And so, my question would be, what would you -- how would you have this inquiries or material that you’re gathering be … how would you like to inform other people?
CA: Well our goal through the class is to, sort of, add to the oral history collection at UNC. And, sort of, the growing literature about Hispanics in the South. And so, it’s my hope -- is that, especially when you emphasize the shortcomings or, just the challenges facing Hispanic parents, and parents in general -- my hope is that people become more aware of those. Ideally, it would be nice to have more funding, But, like you said, the government has been investing in other things. But we also have a presentation through this class, where we present our findings to the public so--.
MC: And who else are you going to interview?
CA: I’m hoping to interview several teachers at Carrboro Elementary in the dual-language program, maybe an administrator in the dual-language program, to see what their experiences are with Hispanic parents and students. But I haven’t, I haven’t actually interviewed anyone else quite yet, so.
MC: So you’re going to concentrate in interviewing people from the Carrboro -Chapel Hill School system? The dual language?
CA: That’s who I have contacts with. I’m open to interview, you know--.
MC: I mean, I could, you know, if you wanted, I could give you contact information for one of the interpreters at the ESL department. She would, she would really have a very--
CA: Uh huh.
MC: --broad view, because she’s been working there for quite a number of years.
CA: Uh huh.
MC: And she would offer a very good input and insight.
CA: That would be wonderful.
MC: Uh huh.
CA: Yeah.
MC: Well, let me…oh, I can give you her email address.
CA: I’ll end this recording now.