NMSU professor co-authors book on dual language learning along the U.S.-Mexico border

WRITER: adchavez
CONTACT: Blanca Araujo, 575-646-4820, baraujo5

A professor in the New Mexico State University College of Education has co-authored a book exploring how binational students learn English and Spanish, and how they also contribute to dual language curriculum by applying their cross-border culture to lessons learned in the U.S.

Blanca Araujo, an associate professor in the College of Education’s School of Teacher Preparation, Administration and Leadership, has spent three years researching border-crossing students along with University of Texas at El Paso professors Alberto Esquinca and María Teresa de la Piedra. Their research and findings will be published in the book, “Educating Across Borders: The Case of a Dual Language Program on the U.S.-Mexico Border.”

“I think when people think about the border, they think about the wall and the limits, but to us in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez and other places along the border, we feel that the border is very fluid,” Araujo said. “For children going to school on the border, they learn a lot from two different countries, two different cultures and two different languages. We kind of grow up with two cultures. It’s a great learning opportunity for children.”

For their research, Araujo, Esquinca and de la Piedra spent three years studying students in classrooms at a school in El Paso that was located just across the border from Juárez. In fact, Araujo said, the border could be clearly seen from the school. During the third year of their research, Araujo and her colleagues focused on the classroom of a teacher identified only as “Miss O,” who allowed her students, some of whom traveled daily or weekly from Juárez to attend school in El Paso, to speak both English and Spanish freely and incorporated knowledge from her Mexican students into her curriculum.

Araujo said that by observing Miss O’s classroom, researchers learned how Miss O incorporated the knowledge of her students from Juárez into her curriculum. They also learned more about the students’ comfort level in learning English.

The idea for their research stemmed from personal experience. Araujo, who was born in El Paso and raised in New Mexico, regularly traveled to Juárez with her parents growing up to visit family, shop and get haircuts. Esquinca grew up in Juárez and attended school in El Paso. De la Piedra, a Peruvian transnational, often crosses the border back and forth.

Araujo said she and her colleagues initially wanted to work with recent immigrant students, but once they got into the research they started to see how many students were traveling back and forth.

“We saw the significance of understanding these physical, language and culture crossings and their effects on learning and curriculum. The border is a fascinating place to understand practices that generate on the boundaries themselves,” de la Piedra said.

Because the research was an ethnographic study, Araujo and her colleagues spent their time observing dual language classrooms and getting to know the students. Later, the students were interviewed in groups, and separate interviews were conducted with Miss O and the school’s administrators and a social worker. Their research found that because the school’s principal was himself a border-crossing student as a child, and because of Miss O’s familiarity with border-crossing students, it created an environment that fostered dual language learning.

“I think that the students could have been struggling had it been a different school, but because of the locality and the experiences of teachers and administrators, the school was welcoming of the culture and the languages,” Araujo said. “Our research pointed to the importance of teachers being understanding of the community and the students.”

Araujo said one finding of the research suggested that the students learned more when they were allowed to translanguage, or intermingle English and Spanish, while educational policies state the need to separate languages in the classroom. They found that when teachers separated languages, students tend not to want to talk anymore.

“Translanguaging practices allowed for active participation of all students and rich co-construction of knowledge in the dual language classrooms we observed,” de la Piedra said.

Researchers also learned a lot about the students’ experiences in Juárez during the escalation of drug cartel-related violence in the city from 2009 to 2012. Araujo said they discovered parents were sending their children to El Paso to attend school in order to ensure their safety. One father began sending his daughter to school in El Paso after his other child was killed, and another girl described smelling blood in the truck she was riding in.

“Students’ knowledge of violence was present in their conversations, writings and songs. It was part of their every day lives, and as such, school officials must recognize and utilize them in the curriculum,” de la Piedra said.

The book, which will be published on Nov. 20 by the University of Arizona Press, is available for pre-order at https://uapress.arizona.edu/book/educating-across-borders or on amazon.com. Araujo’s interview with C-SPAN about the book will air on Book TV (on C-SPAN2, Comcast channel 18) and American History TV (on C-SPAN3, Comcast channel 105) on Aug. 18-19 during a special feature Las Cruces weekend.

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