Cynthia Bredenberg

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Cindy Bredenberg discusses her experiences and observations as a Spanish teacher at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, North Carolina. She shares about her school’s demographics and the school culture and reflects on her experiences working with students throughout her fifteen years working at Jordan-Matthews, many of whom Latinx. Cindy also describes the challenges faced by many of her students, specifically those related to financial strain, the lack of quality affordable housing, anxiety, and the impact of stigmatization by community members. She differentiates between the experiences of her U.S.-born students and those who have migrated to North Carolina from other countries, and she shares some challenges specific to her undocumented students, including the stress of financially providing for family members in their home country and lack of access to federal financial aid for higher education. Cindy also details the importance of relationship-building between teachers and students and explains how students are more likely to reach out to teachers and school staff for help if they have a previously established trusting relationship. She also describes the “grassroots” nature of helping students and shares some of the in-school and community-based resources available to students and those specifically targeted to help students newly arriving from other countries. Finally, she describes the rise of charter schools in Chatham County and shifts in school demographics.




Lindley Andrew: Hi, my name is Lindley Andrew, and I’m here with Cindy Bredenberg, a high school teacher. It is April 15th, 2023, and we’re here in Chatham County, North Carolina. Today we’ll be discussing the effects of immigration-related stressors on the health and well-being of youth in Latinx immigrant communities, specifically Siler City, North Carolina. Cindy, just to get your oral consent, do I have your permission to continue interviewing you and for it to go on the New Roots website?

Cynthia Bredenberg: You do.

LA: Awesome. So just to start out, can you tell me a little bit about your school and the community that it’s in?

CB: Sure. I teach at Jordan-Matthews High School, which is located in Siler City, North Carolina. We’re maybe about forty minutes from Chapel Hill and about twenty minutes from Asheboro. We’re a small community. We’re located in Chatham County, and so our school district-- the northern part of our district is right in Chapel Hill, but for us, we’re kind of on the line with Randolph County, so a totally different demographic than what you would find near Chapel Hill. So, our school has about 850 students right now, and we’re sixty percent Hispanic, twenty-five percent Caucasian, and fifteen percent African American.

LA: Awesome. So, can you tell me a little bit about your-- what you do as a teacher, what you teach, specifically, and just kind of like the culture of your school?

CB: Sure. I have been teaching at Jordan-Matthews-- this is my fifteenth year. I am a non-native Spanish speaker, and when I was hired as a Spanish teacher, they asked me if I could teach native speakers Spanish because there was a need for that, so I said, “Sure!” [laughs] So that was my first time doing that, but I’ve been there for fifteen years now. I teach everything from Spanish one, two, three, and four, that would be for our non-native, non-heritage speakers. I’ve taught Spanish one and two native speakers, I teach AP Spanish Language and Culture, and I also teach a Syracuse University Project Advance class, Spanish 201. So, I pretty much taught anything at Jordan-Matthews, anything and everything. I work with students who speak English at home and students who speak Spanish at home, but predominantly students who speak Spanish at home.

LA: Awesome. And so, I guess because we’re going to be talking about immigrant youth and families, in your experience working with these kinds of students and their families, what have you observed are some of the most pressing stressors by these individuals? And how have students brought these stressors to your attention?

CB: Sure. Obviously, economics play a huge role in our families, and that’s a stressor. Over the fifteen years of working at Jordan-Matthews, I’ve had many students who worked night jobs. They might go to work at 5:30 in the afternoon and work until 3:00 in the morning, and then they go to bed for a couple hours and then come to school. I’ve had students who-- when I started at J-M, we still had students who were working in the cotton fields. And I had students who would go and pick cotton when the sun came up and then they would come to school, and then they would go back and pick cotton in Lee County. Maybe not so much in Chatham County, but they were traveling to where their parents were working. So, economics are a big thing. The lack of safe housing, sustainable housing. We do have about three trailer parks in Siler City, and so I believe that there is housing available, but it’s not quality housing, and some of the trailer parks where students live are very old, and it’s no place that you would ever want to live, yourself. So affordable housing that’s safe and quality housing-- finances are a huge part, and then also I think the stressors of children always worried about whether or not their parents will be taken away. I think that plays a huge roll in our students’ everyday lives.

LA: Yeah, and how have students typically brought these issues to your attention? Is it just kind of something you observe, or do they often reach out to you, or what is that like?

CB: So, it’s a little bit of both. Being that I’m established at the school, a lot of families know me, and so they feel comfortable coming to me. But if it’s a student who’s new, and they don’t know me -- you know, I’m a white lady who has an accent when she speaks Spanish -- so they don’t necessarily trust me right off the bat that, you know, we have to earn that trust. But, for a lot of the kids, they know me, I know their parents now, and so I think they probably do feel a little bit more comfortable coming to talk to me. And some, I think, with our students who are newly arrived to the United States, because I speak Spanish and they speak Spanish and they don’t speak English, I think it’s probably out of desperation, maybe, that they come and see me because they don’t know who else to talk to and I’m a teacher that speaks Spanish. Being a woman, I do have girls who will come and talk to me; maybe they wouldn’t talk to anyone else.

LA: Yeah, and just to kind of clarify and give a little bit of a distinction, could you distinguish between some of the challenges that are specific to students who are immigrants themselves, maybe newcomers like you just mentioned, versus the challenges faced by students who maybe have parents or family members who are immigrants, but they themselves were born in the U.S.?

CB: Sure. I didn’t really know about that distinction until I really saw it in my classroom. About ten years ago when I was teaching an AP Spanish class, I had students who were born here, but their parents were immigrants -- Hispanic students -- and in the same class, I had Hispanic students who had just come to our country. And I was really shocked and surprised by the way that the students who were citizens treated the non-citizens. Not overtly rude, but it was almost like passive aggressive, the way that they treated them. So that was really my first eye-opener to, “Wow they don’t see them as equals” or “They don’t see them as part of them.” So over the years we really try to work with kids at our school to try to get the kids who were born here and see themselves as, although they may be of Mexican or Guatemalan descent, they see themselves as American-- how can we get them to help the students who are new to our school. And so that’s something that we work on. So those students that are new to our school oftentimes they only socialize with each other, so they’re only speaking Spanish. Oftentimes they don’t know how to navigate the school system, they don’t know how to use the computer, they don’t -- because they’re only talking with each other in Spanish -- it does take them longer to learn English. And one thing that’s good about our school is we have a lot of courses that are offered in Spanish. In some ways I think that’s bad because it doesn’t enable those students to get out with the other students and to meet other kids. So that’s something that I think we try to work on to help our kids, who are typically an ESL student, interact with other students in the building. The other thing is getting those students who are U.S. citizens to work with those kids who are newcomers, to make them see that, you know, “We’re all human,” and they’re not so far removed from that. The students who are citizens already have many more opportunities than the students who aren’t. I have students who maybe came here at three years old or four years old and don’t remember anything about Mexico, but they’re not citizens. They receive an education, just like everybody else, and then when they’re seniors in high school and they’re applying to college, it’s really hard for them, really difficult to realize that their friends sitting next to them can pay a thousand dollars to go to the local community college, and they’re going to have to pay eight thousand dollars. And it just doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not fair. So that’s one thing I see also between citizens and non-citizens.

LA: Yeah. And do you think that many people in Siler City, in North Carolina, are aware of that kind of distinction between youth who are immigrants themselves versus youth who are children of immigrants? Because I often see them lumped together in a lot of popular narratives, and so is that something that you’ve noticed?

CB: Definitely lumped together. If we’re talking about Siler City, in particular, the white or African American population who are established in Siler City, they often lump all of our immigrants together as Mexican, and they do not understand the difference between if a child is a citizen or not a citizen, the opportunities that are afforded to the child that can apply for FAFSA, for financial aid, for all the scholarships, as compared to the child who is just as smart and has worked just as hard in high school and they don’t have those opportunities. No, people definitely don’t see that. So it’s interesting, I think, as -- I’m not originally from North Carolina. Like I said, I’ve been here fifteen years, so as an outsider, it’s interesting for me to see other groups of people that have historically been disadvantaged, how they treat now these Hispanic people who are now disadvantaged. It’s an interesting thing for me to see as an outsider.

LA: Yeah. Could you just elaborate on that just a little bit more?

CB: Sure. In Siler City, for example, we have a charter school. And the charter school, historically, was for white families. And now we have a lot of African American families sending their students there because they don’t want to send them to the public school because we are sixty percent Hispanic. Whereas so many of our Hispanic students at school, they’re fantastic, they’re super smart, they’re great, they’re funny, they’re great kids, but there’s this view of, “Oh, we’re not going to send our kids there.” And so, again, as an outsider, I see it as, “Well wait a minute, that’s how you were treated years ago,” but people don’t see it that way. They see it as the charter school is providing more opportunities for their kids. But I definitely see that our Hispanic students, and Hispanic families, are treated as second-class citizens many times in Siler City.

LA: Yeah, thanks for kind of giving a little bit more detail about that. I think that’s really important, and--.

CB: I think--. Can I speak to that also about Chatham County?

LA: Yeah.

CB: Because in--. So in Chatham County we have two elementary schools that offer a dual-language program. So, in Siler City, we have many more Hispanic students in the program than we have white or African American. Not that we don’t have the kids to fill those seats. The parents aren’t sending their kids to the dual-language school. So, in Siler City, the majority of the students in the program are Hispanic. In the same county, just forty minutes away, right near Chapel Hill, we have another elementary school, North Chatham, and the predominantly white students go there, and we don’t have enough Hispanic students. So the interesting part is, that in North Chatham, those white parents value their children being bilingual, but in the same county -- which, we know those parents are predominantly from other places, they’re not from Chatham County originally. Whereas in the same county, in Siler City, the white and African American parents from Chatham County do not typically send their kids to the dual-language school. They do not value their children being with those other kids, and they do not value their children being bilingual. It’s very interesting.

LA: That is really interesting. And in your fifteen years, have you noticed any shift in that perception or has it kind of maintained?

CB: I think it’s gotten worse. I think for a while we had parents sending their children to Siler City Elementary. Now, that speaks to the administration that was at Siler City Elementary at the time. A local person who was the principal at Siler City Elementary, I think the parents valued that person’s opinion. But I think as time has gone on, we see more of them sending their children to the charter schools.

LA: Interesting. Yeah, that would be fascinating to do research about, and collect perspectives and kind of map those.

CB: If people would be honest with their perspectives, it would be very interesting, yes.

LA: This is kind of switching gears a little bit, but in your experience knowing some mixed-status families -- which for listeners who may not exactly know what mixed-status is, that’s when there are some family members who are documented and others who aren’t -- what are some of the additional responsibilities and challenges that U.S. citizen-born children take on to help their undocumented parents or family members.

CB: Yeah, or siblings.

LA: Or siblings.

CB: We’ve had families at our school that two siblings have been citizens and one or two have not been citizens, and that’s so hard, when one of the children gets into college and applies for financial aid, and can go on, and the other child cannot, although they’re super smart. One thing I see when the parents were not born here, but the children were, or the children were raised here from a young age, the children oftentimes act not only as a translator, but the children act as the go-between between the school, between the local government, between the doctor’s office, dentist office-- and that’s a big responsibility. It’s also-- language is a powerful tool. Many times, I’ve seen children who maybe don’t want to tell their parents everything that’s being translated. It may be an uncomfortable topic, or maybe that they don’t want their parents to know, or maybe even they’re not sure how to translate some of the conversation. So that puts a big stressor on the child. And again, we have families that, you know, children are told not to answer the door. Children are told, maybe, not to talk to police. Children are told not to divulge any information to teachers or to counselors. And so those children are keeping that all inside. And so, we see by the time that they get to high school a lot of these kids are treated as adults. I have a seventeen-year-old son. When I look at some of the things that some of my kids who are seventeen -- my Hispanic students who are seventeen -- the things, the responsibilities that they carry, whether its mental, physical, you know, helping the family financially, caring for all the children while the parents are at work, things that my child just doesn’t have an idea about. So, I think we see these kids come to school with--. Oh, and another thing, sometimes I’ll say to the kids, “Hey, can you come in tomorrow like quarter of eight?” “No, maestra, I have to take my little brother to school, and I have to take my cousin to school.” Especially if they were born here and can get a driver’s license, then the family really depends on them for the transportation of younger siblings, of parents to doctors’ appointments. Kids often miss school because they are the driver and the translator for family members to go to appointments.

LA: Right. Are many of the newcomers that arrive in Siler City, are they unaccompanied minors or do some come with family members, or what’s the breakdown there? And how are they maybe received differently depending on that?

CB: Okay, so just this year, I’ve had ten new students who have come across the border unaccompanied. And they have family members who live in Siler City. Maybe an uncle, a cousin. And some of them, I don’t even know how they’ve reached Siler City. I think crossing the border. I think COVID in their country was probably--. They were on their own. Crossing the border, I think was an adventure, coming to Siler City was an adventure, and now the United States Government says, “Well you have to go to school,” and it’s just kind of another adventure for them right now. They don’t really see the benefit in education. They’re almost in a limbo, some of these kids, because they’re living with one family member, they’re not living with their parents. They, definitely right now, in our community, they all hang together. Where our families that have been here for a generation don’t necessarily communicate with them so much. Does that make sense?

LA: Yes.

CB: They have their families, they have their jobs, their kids are in school. And then these newcomer students that we have, they’re still trying to figure out what the whole education system is, what our schedule is like, why do you have to go to four classes a day, why can’t you leave when you want to leave. Honestly, I think these kids have been on their own for a couple years, and now they’re saying, “We have to stay at school? We can’t just walk out? Well at our school, we can just walk out.” And so, it’s not only coming to the United States, it’s just the whole school culture that is really foreign to them. Right now, we have a lot of kids at our school trying to work through that.

LA: And what resources, maybe within the school or just the community, state, are available to those students who are trying to just understand the realities of living in Siler City, North Carolina after coming from a country far away?

CB: Right, right. So, within our school system, I think our school -- Chatham County Schools -- we try to work really hard to help those students. We have counselors, we have bilingual staff. From when you walk in the door of our schools that have dual-language programs -- and even, I think some of the other schools -- the minute you walk in, we have staff who are bilingual who greet you. We have counselors. If they don’t speak Spanish, we make sure that a translator is there. Same with our social workers. We have therapists that offer services to the students. We also have in Chatham County, in Siler City, in particular, we have Vínculo Hispano, which is a great resource for newcomers to help them just with the whole process of-- well anything. Anything that they might encounter, whether it’s government, doctor, whatever, Vínculo Hispano helps them with that. And I think, on the county level, also they really try to help give resources to Siler City. We also have I think in Siler City-- we also culturally try to really recognize the Hispanic culture and celebrate that. You know, whether it might be September 15th, and independence, or whether it’s Cinco de Mayo, or whatever it might be, I think that culture, we do try to celebrate that within Siler City.

LA: Yeah. So, I know we’ve talked quite a bit about the stressors and challenges faced by youth who are immigrants themselves or family members of immigrants. Could you talk a little bit about how these stressors and challenges affect students’ mental or physical health, and then, I know we just touched on the services available, but if you have any others to add that are related directly to mental or physical health--.

CB: Sure. I think particularly since COVID, I think one thing that I see in anxiety. I can speak of, right now, I have two students who are suffering from some anxiety issues, and I think it’s because they are working while attending school and trying to send money home to their families, and they’re teenage girls. And they’re in AP Spanish, and, you know, they have to do some homework, and I definitely try to limit the amount of work that I send home with my students, especially those that work outside of school because they really are trying to help support their families. And so that anxiety comes over into the classroom. You know, when I’m asking a student to write a timed essay on a topic that--. I think we do a good job at Jordan-Matthews offering classes in Spanish. I don’t know that we offer enough levels of the classes in Spanish. We have AP Spanish Language and Culture, we have AP Spanish Literature, we have Spanish for native speakers, we have a history class in Spanish. But what we’ve found right now is we need to start looking at some varying levels of these classes because we’re really just grouping all those kids together. “Oh, you speak Spanish? Oh, we’re going to put you in the history class,” but that’s causing some more anxiety because maybe they’ve never studied at that level before. And so yes, the class is being given in Spanish, but they don’t understand the process of having to take notes, or, you know, “Read a chapter for tomorrow and answer these questions.” So that’s adding another stressor to them. We do have an ESL Academy, which is pretty successful, but I almost think maybe we need to offer some varying levels of our Spanish classes so that students can be more successful, and they wouldn’t be so stressed for that.

LA: Right. Can you talk a little bit about the ESL Academy, and just kind of what that is and how that benefits students?

CB: Sure. So our ESL Academy really exists to help--. Because we’ve had so many students who are coming from a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, we’ve had a few students from other countries, but predominantly Spanish-speaking, we have so many students who are coming from Spanish-speaking countries that we just did not offer enough classes for them to assimilate into our school. So, they started this ESL Academy, is what it’s called, and at least two out of the four classes a day, the students are with the ESL teachers. Now, we offer one of those classes as physical education, so, you know, they’re outside running around and doing physical activity, but we have it within ESL Academy. Another class that we have within ESL Academy is, well, we have a few, whether it’s like reading and writing or public speaking, or whatever it might be. I think the students benefit because they do try to focus on English, but those students are together at least one or two classes a day so they can kind of touch base with each other. Now I think they touch base with each other in Spanish, but at least they get to see each other.

LA: Yeah. Let’s see, so--.

CB: Oh, services.

LA: Yeah.

CB: I’m sorry.

LA: No, it’s okay.

CB: I didn’t talk about the services.

LA: It’s okay, yeah, what services are available to these students that may be experiencing, like you said, anxiety in the classroom, or who’ve brought some other mental health concern to the teachers?

CB: Well, and even physical.

LA: Yeah.

CB: I had a student who, over the course of a couple days, I realized he had a terrible toothache, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do so I contacted the school nurse who kind of called around our town and found a dentist who said, “Oh yes, bring the student. Bring him in, let’s see how we can help him,” and ultimately the student needed a root canal, and this dentist just stepped forward and was like, “Let him pay what he can pay. Yes, this is another human being, and I’m going to help him as much as I can,” which really, I loved that because I was like, “Ok, yes, there are good people.” So, it’s kind of grassroots sometimes how we help our students. In terms of serviced offered right at school, like with our nurse, she’s fantastic, we had a student who needed glasses. The mom didn’t speak any English, but we got a translator who was able to go to the eye doctor with them right in our town, and the local Lion’s Club paid for the student’s classes. So there definitely are good people in our community who want to help our newcomers. At school, definitely I think the resources that are used the most are our--. We offer therapists, and our school counselors, and our social workers, and I think that they are probably utilized the most. And we have translators. We have two translators at school who sit in on those meetings and translate as necessary.

LA: Yeah, thanks for sharing about the services about the services. I really liked how you mentioned kind of the grassroots nature of sometimes how students are able to be helped as kind of like a joint effort between a lot of kind of random people--.

CB: How we get things done.

LA: Yeah. I don’t know if you have any more to expand on that, but if you do, I would love to hear a little bit more about that just--. You know, if a service doesn’t inherently exist, but you kind of can reach out to so-and-so or whatever to provide for student.

CB: Well, we had a student a few years ago, who came to me and she’s a DACA student, and she had applied to a scholarship specifically for DACA students, and she won a scholarship. There are a number of universities in the U.S. that offer free four-year degrees, a four-year education, for DACA students. And so, the school that she was awarded was at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. And so, she came to me, and she said -- and she really wasn’t excited -- and she said, “Well, I won the scholarship.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I was acting crazy, “You won the scholarship!” And she said, “But it’s in Memphis, Tennessee,” and I said, “So?” And she said, “Maestra, how will I get to Memphis?” And I said, “We’re going to work it out.” So, what we did was, we packed up the car, her parents got in the car, we drove, she checked out the college, they had a fantastic program, we drove back, and ultimately, she went there, and she graduated with a four-year degree. So, she’s not our only student who has won the degree at Christian Brothers University. So, each time, I think the teacher support, and I think it’s kind of grassroots because the teachers that help these students who are undocumented or who have no idea about college, but we know that we can get them a scholarship--. You know, we’re still checking up on them after they go away to college. “Hey, how are you doing? What do you need? How can we help you?” So, I think definitely at Jordan-Matthews, there are a lot of teachers who understand the situation the students are in. Now there are some who are new, and they don’t. But the teachers -- there’s probably a good core of five or six teachers -- who understand that student situation, and they try to help however possible. Reach out to the community, reach out to local resources, to get that grassroots stuff done.

LA: Awesome. That’s really heartening to hear that there are people doing good work, even when it’s not necessarily in their job title. So, this kind of leads right into the next question. So, in your experience, were teachers and other support staff -- like counselors, therapists, school social workers -- are they prepared to help students with these specific stressors that are specifically for children who are immigrants themselves, whether documented or undocumented, and then who are children of immigrants?

CB: I think it’s like anything else. I think you have some teachers who really do want to figure out what’s going on with that child in their room, and where is this coming from. And I’m a big proponent--. I would like to do more home visits. I think that we could reach more parents doing home visits. But then there are some teachers who are like, “Whoa, no, I don’t want to go to their home. I just want to come do my job and go home at night.” And that’s all personality, you know, how people are. We have some teachers who, yes, they understand, and they want to know more about it, and then I think we have some teachers that don’t understand, and maybe--. And the interesting thing is, we have some teachers who are from other Spanish-speaking countries -- they’re visiting international teachers -- over the course of the years. Some of them really understand the plight of our immigrants, and some of them don’t, depending on what country they come from. So, one thing that we try to do, we do try to have informational sessions about, that we are a dual-language school, and that, “Information that you send home needs to be in both languages, or if you need to make a call home, let us know and we will translate for you so that you can communicate effectively with the parent.” So, I think being a dual-language school we do try to promote that more, making sure that communication is there, making sure that outreach is there, but there’s always more we could do. Definitely.

LA: And so, I know that you just said that being a dual-language school has helped in that there are more translators available and maybe an increased awareness of the struggle that a lot of these students face. Do you think that is unique to Jordan-Matthews primarily because it’s a dual-language school. In other words, is that awareness present in the other high schools in Chatham County that you’ve seen or is there less awareness in other schools that don’t have this immersion program?

CB: There is less awareness. I don’t think it’s due to the dual-language program. I think it’s due to the demographics. We were invited to another high school in the county, and the experience that my students had at that high school was eye-opening, that we are in the same county, and my students were treated like they were not equals. And it was all addressed, but I don’t think just being a dual-language school has to do with it. I think it’s the demographics of the school where you are, and the people that you have in the school.

LA: Do you see in Siler City, or in Chatham County more broadly, a stigmatization or kind of marginalization of your students and their families, and if so, how does that manifest and what is done about it?

CB: Sure. Language and economics are a powerful thing. It’s no secret that the families in Siler City don’t have much money, don’t have many resources. Would I like to see more resources in our schools? Always. Now, that being said, as the dual-language chairperson at Jordan-Matthews, Chatham County Schools has been great in our program. They really work with us. Just about anything I ask for, we get for our students. So, I think resources are really good. I do think that public perception--. How should I say this? Coming out of COVID and, I don’t want to be too political, I’m really not a political person, but I thought that I saw more negativity during the last presidential administration towards our immigrants. And so, coming out of COVID, I do think that there is a little more negativity towards immigrants as a whole, not only in our town, our county, our state, our country. And so that’s something that we’re always working on to try to break that stigma of, “Yes, our students at Jordan-Matthews might be majority Hispanic. They might be poor, but don’t try to tell me that they’re gang members, and don’t try to put on stereotypes that don’t exist.” So yes, I think that’s something that we’re always working for, to promote the excellent things happening at our school with our students to break stereotypes that people have.

LA: And what effect do those stereotypes have on students themselves? Is it something that they even think about or notice or is it something that they take really personally? Does it vary? What have you noticed?

CB: I notice it because as a white woman, there are white people in our community that think I share the same ideas that they do because I’m white. And so, people will make comments to me about, “All those Mexicans.” I’m like, “Well, actually, they’re from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela,” and then they kind of look at me, you know. So, are the students aware of the stigma? I think when they’re in our school, they’re maybe not necessarily aware of that, but when they go to other schools--. You know, there’s a brand-new high school on the other side of the county, and I think the kids do say, “Wow, why don’t we have this? Is it because we’re not as good?” And as a teacher you have to go, “No, that’s not why. No, you guys are awesome.” But I do think perceptions of--. And I don’t think it’s Chatham County, it’s not our Chatham County Schools, it’s not our local government, it’s more members of the community have negative perceptions about our kids. And so those are definitely stereotypes. We’re always trying to lift our kids up and remind them of how fantastic they are. And we’re trying to grow our own. We try to have Hispanic students who go off to college and maybe want to be teachers come back so that our students can see themselves reflected in the staff of our school. But that being said, obviously, I don’t look like my students, but I think they know that I support them to the very end, you know. But it would be nice if they could see themselves reflected in the community.

LA: Yeah, I love that you brought that up. What benefits do you think students receive from having a teacher who does reflect themselves. Like, I know that Jordan-Matthews has quote a few teachers who are native Spanish-speakers and are not originally from the United States, and so even if their countries of origin aren’t the same and their stories are very different, what benefits do students have from having those kinds of teachers.

CB: Sure. Just being able to relate to that person or just being able to say, “Hey that teacher not only looks like me, but is from another country.” Or, “that teacher had that experience like I did.” We definitely had some teachers who came here as immigrants and now they’re citizens. So, it makes it more possible also, like, “Hey, they did that so maybe I can do that.” I did have a conversation this year with one of my students, who is a senior, and I said to that student, it’s a female, and I said, “How do you feel about this topic? Do you feel bad sometimes that we don’t have more representation,” and she said, “Oh yeah, I would love to have teachers that look like me.” I mean, I love her. We get along great, but I apologized. I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” So that’s something that we have to work on as a country, I think. Valuing education, valuing teachers so that we get more diversity and more people going into education so then our students and our class can look up and go, “Hey, that person looks like me,” or “Hey, they did it so I can do it.” I think that is really important.

LA: Yeah, and that is definitely an issue way bigger than Siler City, Chatham County. Valuing teachers to encourage everyone to join the profession is a huge issue across the country.

CB: Yeah, as a mom of boys, I mean, I wish my kids had more male teachers. So, I can see where my Latino students, there is--. Now, that being said, I mean we have four, five, six teachers right now who are Latinos, but we have almost nine hundred students. We could have a whole bunch more.

LA: And what’s interesting is that some schools don’t even have four, five, six, you know. In this county, which is interesting. Speaking of teachers and school staff, what resources or trainings or really anything, do you think could better prepare them to work with students like the ones we’ve been talking about.

CB: Yeah, so I think a lot of the training that teachers go through when they have professional development, they feel like it’s not valuable or, “How can I use this in my classroom?” We had a student a few years ago who now has a full scholarship to Wake Forest University. She’s fantastic, and she actually came -- she was newly arrived, she was an ESL student, but she was passionate about the environment -- and she came and did a presentation to the faculty about starting a recycling program at school, how important recycling was, and she did it in English of a student who’d only been there a year. It was fantastic because she was so passionate about this topic, and all the teachers were like, “Wow, listening to this student, and she’s in ESL, and she’s really trying, she’s really--.” And that made that connection with that student with the faculty. So I think one thing that we need to do is just remind faculty members about where these students are from, what their backgrounds are, but that they are super smart and that they’re passionate about different topics, and things like that. Another thing I think that we have done well in the past and that we need to remember to do well, is a lot about language acquisition and, “How do students learn in in your English classes, and how can they take that learning, whether it’s in math or science or English or whatever class it is, and put it back into their own language?” Our teachers are spending a lot of time translating and trying to figure out how to best reach these kids whose first language is Spanish, who are newcomers. And I don’t think it’s just Siler City or Chatham County. I think across North Carolina, across the United States, we need to try to do more to help teachers with second-language acquisition with their students.

LA: Yeah. I guess this is kind of going back just a little bit, but what might make a student more or less likely to reach out to teachers or support services for help? You know, you talked about building the relationship between students and faculty and how that increases awareness and visibility, but are there other thing that make a student more likely or less likely to reach out to school staff for help if needed?

CB: Definitely our newcomer students are not going to reach out to people like me if they don’t know me. They see me as a white lady. They don’t know that I’m trying to help them. So, establishing the relationship with your students is so important. That’s why I think at Jordan-Matthews, it’s really good that the first people that they encounter, you know, they walk in the building and our two translators are both Hispanic, super nice, warm, inviting people, really try to get to know the kids, help them out, and so then they’re the translators for the guidance counselors. That kind of breaks the ice with that. So, I do know that a lot of those kids who’ve just come to our country, immediately go to our secretaries because they’re bilingual and they can help them out. So, building the relationships, it’s really important. And also, I think for the kids to see you in other roles. Maybe they see you helping a different Hispanic student in Spanish or maybe a topic that you talk about in class they think, “Oh, well maybe this person’s not the stereotypical white person.” But I think for our newcomers, having those people who speak Spanish is a game-changer for them. I think they’re the people that they relate to first.

LA: Right.

CB: Does that help?

LA: Yeah, that’s great. I think those are all the questions that I have. I have really enjoyed talking with you. Are there any parting thoughts? If not, I will go ahead and end it here.

CB: No, thank you for letting me participate. I appreciate it.

LA: Of course, it’s been awesome.

CB: Okay.


Transcribed by Lindley Andrew on April 20th, 2023