Supporting Linguistic and Cultural Connections for Spanish-Speaking Children

Project Team

Latinx children growing up in the U.S. often struggle with defining their own identity while navigating values and expectations of two different cultures. Many Latinx students internalize feelings of linguistic and cultural inferiority during the early stages of reading and speaking in English, which can lead to the loss of Spanish and erosion of family relationships. 

¡Celebra Latinx! is a Spanish reading program that connects Latinx children with Duke students as peer tutors and provides the opportunity for them to support each other in their development as bilingual speakers. After implementing the program, this project team analyzed preliminary results regarding the impact of the program on children’s reading motivation and the development of literacy. Results suggest that participation in the program increases children’s confidence and motivation to read in Spanish and supports the development of skills necessary to build literacy, such as persistence and concentration.

Team profile by Laura Andrade, Olivia Bond, Joan Clifford, Melody Gao, Mauricio Hernandez, Isabel Lewin-Knauer, Victoria McReynolds, Mia Murphy, Sofia Silvosa, Rory Smith, Sanceray Smith, Caleb Watson and Cabell Whitlow

¡Celebra Latinx! is a collaborative effort between professors, undergraduate students, graduate students and Durham community members to celebrate Latinx culture. Our team’s goal was to develop and implement a semester-long reading program for Latinx children in the Durham area. Our research uses survey data to measure the effect that our program had on a variety of aspects including the children’s cultural identity, reading habits, and motivation to read aloud in Spanish. 

Children reading; a thank you note.
Photos courtesy of project team

The program connects Latinx children from the Durham area with Duke undergraduate students who serve as their teaching companion through a series of online reading sessions. The sessions are meant to expose children to Latinx authors, stories and traditions through reading a variety of Spanish picture books and through follow-up activities encourage the practice of reading, writing and communicating in Spanish. 

“Overall, I think that this program has been really rewarding for me to be a part of. I came in super nervous about speaking Spanish, and I can definitely say that I think I’ve a grown quite a bit…I’ll be a part of next year’s team and I’m really looking forward to continuing to see how this program grows and how we can make a difference for the families.” –Melody Gao ’23

¡Celebra Latinx! utilizes a participatory action research framework and seeks to evaluate participant progress and improve the program by conducting continuous evaluations with program participants. After every reading session, children and their parents are asked to detail what they did and did not like about the session, how they felt about their reading level and how interested they were in their reading materials that day.

In the project’s first semester, the number of children reporting that they felt like a good reader grew from 53 percent after the first session to 80 percent following the final session. Further, while only 47 percent of children reported that reading out loud had been fun after their first session, 80 percent of participating children said that they had enjoyed reading out loud during their final session. 

Team members at poster showcase.
Team members at the 2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase; Photos courtesy of project team

After completing seven reading sessions with their assigned Duke student, 60 percent of children reported that participating in the program increased their confidence in reading in Spanish “a lot.” When asked to what degree participating in the program had increased their child’s confidence in reading in Spanish, 90 percent of parents responded “a lot” and 10 percent said “somewhat.”  
Though the program seeks to promote bilingualism and Latinx pride, it is also designed to be a transformative, experiential learning experience for Duke students. After the first semester of the program, two thirds of participating Duke students reported having an experience in the program that changed their values, beliefs, or expectations. 

“My experience with ¡Celebra Latinx! has been eye-opening and impactful in my development as an individual and teammate. As a result of this project, I have improved my own Spanish speaking abilities…[and] I have grown to appreciate the value of reading and deep connection with students’ cultural heritage. It has been an honor to work directly with students and watch their reading and writing abilities improve over time!” –Rory Smith ’23

While most students participating in ¡Celebra Latinx! had past experience working with children, many faced new challenges. Working collaboratively with children and their parents at the same time and finding new ways to navigate individual parent-child dynamics proved to be challenging. Additionally, some children had learning differences that required tailored approaches and techniques for sessions. However, our group meetings involved significant discussions of different challenges we faced.

A major success of the program was the environment of collaboration and sharing of ideas and strategies. We became a supportive group of students and faculty that were able to learn from each other throughout the process.

“This program was extremely rewarding, and I am grateful I was able to be a part of it... [It] was really beautiful to watch the relationships between parent and child grow as they came together each week to read. The family I worked with valued the sessions as a means of creating an activity for the father and son to do together…They plan to continue to doing similar sessions by finding books in Spanish at the public library even after the program ends.” –Isabel Lewin-Knauer ’23

Impact of a Reading Program on Latinx Children’s Motivation to Read in Spanish

Poster by Laura Andrade, Olivia Bond, Joan Clifford, Melody Gao, Mauricio Hernandez, Isabel Lewin-Knauer, Victoria McReynolds, Mia Murphy, Sofia Silvosa, Rory Smith, Sanceray Smith, Caleb Watson and Cabell Whitlow

Project team poster.