1980’s Charlotte = a building town. Construction workers moved here and built their lives in Charlotte, but no preschool was laying the foundation for Spanish-speaking children to enter Kindergarten. The need for Spanish-speaking families to access early childhood education was nonexistent before 1999 when SHARE Charlotte partner, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool (CltBP), opened their doors.
But as Executive Director Banu Valladares explains, “The people [Charlotte Bilingual Preschool] served in 1999 are not the same people we serve now. Not all families now are first generation immigrants. We serve a lot of refugees fleeing bad political situations; they had vacation homes and some of them don’t speak English. Other families speak English but have a deep desire to learn Spanish and connect with native Spanish-speakers. Currently, there are 144 spots for children. Last year, we piloted a new program, the Green Room 36 English- and Spanish speaking students and their families to learn together to accelerate language acquisition in both languages and foster respect among cultures.
The Green Room is an innovative program featuring dual-language learning, but this concept which started last school year is part of CltBP’s goal to serve 1500 children in the next 5 years.
Valladares explains, “English-speaking children learning beside Spanish-speaking children allows us to see - ‘Can we intentionally create these combinations in classroom where children and families are sharing social and cultural capital, where children are learning from each other, even learning faster from each other?’”
Valladares is strategic, metric-focused and determined to set the bar high for outcomes and explains CltBP’s structure.
“We found that our Latino families are very good at forming bridging relationships and not as good at bonding relationships. The program is designed with researchers at UNCC who observe and document: What is the importance of bonding and bridging relationships? A lot of what we have done is redesigned the way we create opportunities to build those family-school relationships - We first say to families, ‘Let’s hear what you know and then we’ll share about the program or your child’s progress, Valladares compassionately explains.”
This sense of belonging created for Latino families is what CltBP took pride in for years, so before starting the Green Room, the Board of Directors asked families for input. They did not want to interrupt the sense of family and community for a cultural group who can often feel isolated in a culture that values individualism over community.
Valladares explains, “we couldn’t design the Green Room for them, we needed them to help us and be on board for this program. We asked, 'What might be some of the challenges families would encounter?' The Latino families responded, ‘Other people are coming, and they’re going to change our culture.’ Then, we asked pertinent questions:
If someone is going to come in, who are we letting in?
Who would be a person we would want to be in our house?
Would we let in people who are curious about Spanish but don’t speak it?
What about people who have travelled and have friends who speak Spanish?"
Slowly, we developed criteria for who is invited into the Green Room, and we welcomed applicant families with a vested interest in learning Spanish, different cultures, and investing in community.
Without access to a high-quality preschool program, children are twice as likely to not be on reading level by 3rd grade and 4 times as likely to drop out of high school. A quarter of students in CMS identify as Hispanic, and they show significant achievement gaps.
However, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool children outperform CMS Latino children in reading and math scores through 2nd grade.
“Because 3,000 Latino children enter Kindergarten each year in CMS, we need to continue to grow and graduate more children each year. We have something that’s worth growing,” Valladares explains.
Share Charlotte’s partnership with CltBP is intentional to spread the word about community and connecting Charlottean’s time, talent and treasure to help share social and cultural capital. In 2015, CltBP moved to Hickory Grove Elementary to expand their potential to serve more students, and Valladares welcomes you there to meet the children and their families.
“Come visit, volunteer. We provide ESL classes for our families; often we need mentors and tutors for our families. This could be through a language exchange, or simple assistance: ‘I have English homework,’ or ‘I’m struggling with understanding the 3rd person’. We will start doing lunch buddies for our 4-year-olds this year. Creating those friendships with our children and their families is essential. We also host an International Day, and Graduation is transformative, and of course, Giving Tuesday...those are all good ways to connect and give back."
Also, if you’d rather serve at a one-time event, CltBP needs help beautifying the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE)inviting visitors to a Show & Tell - our public tour to get to know us better. You can help spread the word about what we do, become allies and friends…And of course, your gifts of resources are critical to preparing our children and families for success.