UNCG Alumna Spearheads First-of-Its-Kind NC Language Program

Posted on July 31, 2023

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We all want the best environment for our children, and when there’s an unmet need, UNC Greensboro students and alumni do everything in their power to meet that need, even if it hasn’t been done before. In 2018, Principal Carla Flores-Ballesteros ’04, found herself pitching an idea to support the students in her community through language development.

“I was at UNCG forever,” she says. “I started my masters in school administration at UNCG in 2010. I was a Principal Fellow with the state. I took two years to go back to school with this program. I chose to go to UNCG because I knew its education program is one of the top in the state.”

When Flores-Ballesteros graduated from UNCG she began teaching at an immersion school in Greensboro and soon after, became the principal at Allen Jay Elementary, also in Greensboro. Allen Jay Elementary is a very diverse school, with many students from different countries, particularly from Central America. Additionally, about 30 percent of the student population is of Asian origin. 98 percent of those families are from Pakistan.

“I was approached by the district to open a dual language program,” Flores-Ballesteros says. “Our former superintendent believed in serving students using their language. We wanted to make sure that we provided systems of support for students to grow, and one of the ways to do that is to provide instruction in their native language and English.”

Putting Passion into Practice

When the district looked at different schools in the county, Allen Jay had the highest English as a Second Language (ESL) population. The district offered to open an English-Spanish dual language program to serve the high Spanish-speaking population, but Flores-Ballesteros had another question.

“What are we going to do about serving our students who have roots in Pakistan?”

At the time, there wasn’t another Urdu-English language immersion program in the country that Flores-Ballesteros knew of, but she wanted to press forward for her students.

“We wanted to be equitable and provide systems of support for students to be successful,” she says, “After visiting different programs, after meeting with different districts, people, we opened an Urdu-English program and a Spanish-English program the same year.”

The dual language programs are open to all students should they choose to opt in. The community surrounding Allen Jay has come in droves to support Flores-Ballesteros’ initiative. With volunteers helping with tutoring, translation, and communication, Allen Jay is achieving their goal of creating a community of inclusiveness and equity.

The Urdu-English and the Spanish-English programs both use a push-in model for language learning; rather than taking students out of the classroom for language instruction, ESL teachers go into their classroom during language arts to collaborate.

The instruction for the dual languages program is 50 percent in one language and 50 percent in the other to ensure the students are exposed to both languages equally.

“They co-teach with the English Language Arts (ELA) teachers to serve the student,” says Flores-Ballesteros. “We’ve implemented the three L’s model – Language, Literacy, and Learning.”

Among the many things Flores-Ballesteros loves about these programs is the opportunities they create to talk to students and their families. “I’m able to build strong relationships with the whole community – parents, students, staff, and even our community partners as well. I think that’s a gift to be able to do that and serve our community.”

Finding the right balance

Flores-Ballesteros knows all about getting the best of both worlds after her time at UNCG. After one year of full-time instruction, she spent her second year as a student intern with a principal in Guilford County schools. With this set-up, she learned through academics and through practice.

“I was assigned to intern with a principal in a high school, which was really pushing me out of my comfort zone because when I left the classroom, I was teaching elementary.”

These types of classes helped Flores-Ballesteros balance her interests in social justice with teaching.

“Gaining an awareness of what to do to bring equity into my work. I think that was very powerful. I still go back to some of the things that I learned – some of the articles or activities that I did in those classes – to share with my staff now that I’m a principal.”

Story by Dana Broadus, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Adobe Stock

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