UTA Students Help Parents Connect with Children

modl_eldia2014For the past several months, faculty and students from the Department of Modern Languages have been helping Arlington parents connect with their children.

Graduate and undergraduate students have volunteered with the Arlington Public Library’s program “Stories to Our Children.” Through a variety of assignments and roles, the UT Arlington group spent time this semester at Arlington ISD schools, assisting parents in the development and production of original children’s books.

“This program is based on the conviction that the sharing of stories between parents and their children creates a lasting bond between the generations, and promotes an invaluable appreciation and commitment to literacy,” said Associate Professor Christopher Conway (Modern Languages). “Through this program, underserved mothers and fathers are empowered to write, refine and illustrate their life stories for their children.”

Associate Professor Alicia Rueda-Acedo (Modern Languages) said department collaboration with the Arlington libraries on previous events led to establishing internships and service-learning opportunities for Modern Languages majors through the “Stories” program. Several department faculty members such as Amy Austin, Sonia Kania and Ignacio Ruiz-Pérez encouraged and mentored their students to participate.

“I discovered the opportunity to be involved with the Arlington Public Library through one of my classes,” said senior Spanish major Maria Ipina. “I was intrigued by it because of the focus on schoolchildren and allowing parents the chance to share their stories. My grandparents and my mom always had great stories. This is a good idea to write them down and not lose them.”

Ipina and her colleagues worked with parents one-on-one, coaching, editing and proofreading the stories. Native speakers of Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Chinese and Vietnamese all participated in the project. The stories were produced into books, then added as a special collection for the Arlington libraries.

Senior Spanish major Maria Schrimpf found the project inspiring.

“You realize how much some people have gone through,” she said. “You can find a little bit of everything in the stories. I encourage them to write something positive. I tell them, ‘Your children and someone else will be reading. Write something that will inspire others.’”

Senior history major Concepcion Camargo, who is minoring in Mexican American Studies, worked with parents at her alma mater, Berry Elementary. The Arlington native said the experience changed her perspective on the importance of literacy and storytelling among schoolchildren.

“The program is about families telling stories to their kids,” Camargo said. “It gives the parents an opportunity to be their child’s first teacher, and allows the children to relate to the stories they are hearing. If they read a book and can relate to the story, then they may realize there are other books to read, too.”

Organizers hope this impact will not only increase literacy rates but also solidify cultural connections for first-generation Americans.

“While the intention of the program is related to literacy, it’s very important for the children to see how much effort and beauty and interest a parent who can hardly read or write is putting into writing a story,” said Rueda-Acedo. “It’s beautiful to have a book that your mother or dad wrote for you. These stories are part of the library and part of the community.”

Ipina noted the stories also reinforce better comprehension and learning of native languages among younger generations.

“I noticed a lot of the [Spanish-speaking] parents used Spanglish [a mix of Spanish and English words],” she said. “The kids hear it so often that now they speak that. The stories serve to remind us the need for the pure form of Spanish. You lose culture when you lose the language.”

Rueda-Acedo said students in a Spanish translation fall course will be working with the “Stories” books and translating them into English – an effort to make those stories available to a wider audience. These will also be part of the library’s collection.

UT Arlington and Arlington Public Library will host “El Dia e los ninos” from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at the Mavericks Activities Center. Volunteers – including Modern Languages students and members of the English Language Institute – will be on hand to man activity stations and host nearly 300 children.

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