Celebra mi herencia: A Spanish Reading Program (2023-2024)


Many American school systems focus on solely teaching English to Spanish heritage language learners, and linguistically diverse students are often viewed from a deficit perspective — lacking in English, Spanish or both. 

From this perspective, heritage language skills are a burden as opposed to a strength. Students and families are frequently blamed for “deficient” language skills, and their unique needs are neglected by education systems. Often, schools do not even have teachers trained to teach these courses. 

Additionally, recent reports from the National Assessment of Education Progress depict the steepest declines ever recorded of national reading proficiency levels among fourth and eighth graders. This trend, although exacerbated by the pandemic, was already showing steady decline before 2020. 

Research suggests school systems should encourage linguistic diversity. Indeed, many studies have shown the advantages of bilingualism as well as the advantages of incorporating knowledge from culturally diverse families. These outcomes offer future job opportunities and deeper connections with family members and their heritage.

Project Description

Building on the work of previous teams, this team will continue the ¡Celebra mi herencia! program, which pairs Latino/a families with undergraduate students at Duke to read children’s books in Spanish by Latino/a and Latin American authors. The main goal of the program is to promote interactive sessions, foster a love of reading and enhance reading motivation, while also helping to support children in maintaining their heritage language. While Duke students will guide each reading session, they will also seek to acknowledge that parents and children are the experts in the language, creating a unique opportunity for egalitarian engagement. When these learners are viewed as “bilinguals-in-the-making,” the heritage language becomes just as valuable as English.

In addition to participating in the reading program, team members will also evaluate the program’s impact. The reading program consists of seven weekly sessions in which each family meets with the same Duke student for one hour over Zoom. The meetings include at least one parent and focus on reading a book. Families answer a short survey reflecting on their overall experience after each session, which is later used to implement immediate action the following week. Moreover, in order to assess the impact of the reading program, pre- and post-participation interviews and direct measurements are utilized.

Anticipated Outputs

Academic article regarding impact of intervention with Duke students; policy brief promoting heritage language maintenance; trainings to be offered to other Duke programs working with the Latino/a community

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team would include 3 graduate and 15 undergraduate students. Interested students may be from disciplines in the humanities or social sciences as well as public policy and global health. Undergraduate students must have an advanced proficiency (level 300 or higher) in Spanish and an understanding of the importance of racial equity.

Students participating in this project will gain experience working with Latino/a families and learn about their strengths and needs. The project presents a prime opportunity to learn how to celebrate diversity and participate in civic engagement. Students on the team will also hone their Spanish language skills and will benefit from practicing communication with native speakers and learning about Latino/a culture.

Team members will also learn how to carry out a research project in the social sciences, work with human subjects, seek Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, explain consent forms, analyze data and write a research article. Graduate students will have leading roles according to their expertise (data processing, leading activities, etc.).

Maia Szulik will serve as project manager.


Fall 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Fall 2023: Learn about reading program and pre- and post-intervention measures; conduct literature review; prepare and practice for reading sessions; work on coding recorded interviews; further develop and adjust survey design
  • Spring 2024: Recruit treatment and control families; conduct reading sessions; collect and analyze intervention and data; design poster and poster presentation with research methods and results from spring 2023 intervention


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Celebrating Latinx Culture with a Spanish Reading Program (2022-2023).


Image: Libros, by Álvaro Ibáñez, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Exterior of a bookstore with sign: Libros.

Team Leaders

  • Joan Clifford, Arts & Sciences-Romance Studies
  • Stephanie Contreras, Arts & Sciences-Romance Studies
  • Riley Selig-Addiss, Sanford School of Public Policy–MPP Student
  • Silvia Serrano, Arts & Sciences-Romance Studies
  • Maia Szulik, Center for Child and Family Policy, Sanford School of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ana Martinez
  • Joshua Lopez, Robertson Scholarship - UNC
  • Sofia Guerrero, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Sofia Cava
  • Rohan Guddanti
  • Cara Shield
  • Abigail Eun, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Calista Ringas, Psychology (BS)
  • Joseph Raza

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Katie Rosanbalm, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute
  • Brianna Sanders, Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs
  • Marie Chelini, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Robert Carr, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Carlos Taboada
  • Nicolas Andrade, University of Mar del Plata, Argentina
  • Celeste Luna, Latinx Arts Boston
  • Iglesia Presbiteriana Emanuel
  • Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
  • Durham Public Library
  • First Book
  • Book Harvest
  • Leigh Bordley, Latino Educational Achievement Partnership
  • Laura Andrade