The fourth-graders work with UNC students in heritage speaking classes at UNC — which are for people who grew up in a Spanish-speaking home with high verbal skills, but lack skills in writing and reading the language.
UNC’s heritage speakers come into the elementary school classrooms and help the teachers instruct students in grammar and speaking skills. Lately, the UNC students have been giving tours of campus to the fourth-graders.
Margarita Robledo, one of the teachers involved, said she has seen the effects of having college students interact with her students.
“I love to see how my students get so involved when they see actually this is real and this is important,” Robledo said.
One of the purposes of the program is to expose the children to a college environment and to older students that have continued the language. More than half of the elementary schoolers involved are Latinx and come from Spanish-speaking homes.
“In this school, you have to tell them how important it is to keep your native language, how important it’s gonna be for your life,” Robledo said.
The elementary school students are not the only ones benefitting from the program. Julia Mack, a senior lecturer in the department of Romance Studies, teaches the heritage speakers courses and requires 30 hours of volunteer work from her students.
“I personally see volunteer work in the community only as the means to teach something to my students that they couldn’t learn in the classroom.” Mack said.
Mack said many of her students have been shamed for their language. She said the program not only helps the elementary school students gain pride in the language, but also the students in her college classes.
“What I think they are gaining is a higher awareness of the process they went through to learn and keep the language in the U.S.,” Mack said.
Isabel Salas, a first-year who has taken both of Mack’s classes for heritage speakers, said working with the students has given her the opportunity to be a role model.
“It has become more than volunteering because you connect so much with these students,” Salas said.
She hopes UNC will continue developing programs that increase visibility and inclusion of Latinx students on campus. One of those developments is the push for a separate space for Latinx students and the Latinx Unity Council.
“It just shows visibility and representation that the University has lacked for so many years,” said Salas.