The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Partnerships: Coalition for Diverse Language Communities Helps Families, Students Transition to American Life

UNCG School of Education students take part in a "College Access" panel discussion held at Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro last year as part of UNCG's Coalition for Diverse Language Communities program. 

By Sherry Meeks

Imagine relocating to another part of the world where the language and culture are different. You worry about the welfare and education of your children, but you are not always certain about how to navigate this new territory on their behalf. 
These are the experiences of many people in Greensboro, which has served as a federal relocation center for refugees and the new home of many immigrants. Across North Carolina, 16% of children were born outside of the U.S. or live with parents who were born outside of the U.S.  But these families have an ally and a resource in UNCG’s Coalition for Diverse Language Communities (CDLC), which works to enhance the educational opportunities and socio-cultural well-being for children, youth, and families from diverse language communities.

The CDLC was founded more than two years ago by Professors Micheline Chalhoub-Deville, Colleen Fairbanks, and Barbara Levin.  Its goal is to promote innovative, relevant, and collaborative work in the areas of community-engaged research, outreach and advocacy, policy work, and professional development. Chalhoub-Deville says the ultimate goal of this project is to “help the children of these communities fare better in schools and transition to higher education more seamlessly.” 

The CDLC includes faculty, staff, and students from departments across campus, but primarily from the School of Education.  Members have backgrounds from countries such as Canada, China, Columbia, Lebanon, Korea, Mexico, and Peru. Participating faculty include Professors Silvia Bettez, Colleen Fairbanks, Belinda Hardin, Jane He, Barbara Levin, and Amy Vetter, plus doctoral students from various departments in the School of Education.

One major CDLC research project is “Community Voices.”  Through focus groups, community members from China, Burma, Iraq, Iran, Liberia, Mexico, Sudan, Vietnam, as well as to speakers of American Sign Language, learn about the ways in which UNCG may better support them, especially in their educational aspirations. 

Information gleaned from the “Community Voices” focus groups will be used to produce instructional videos explaining community members’ rights and responsibilities regarding schools. 

Another CDLC initiative is the “College Access” project, which started last year with a panel discussion led by first-generation college students at UNCG.  The program was held at Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro, which, with 44 different countries represented in its student body, is one of North Carolina’s most diverse high schools.

The panelists shared useful information and personal experiences to help future college students and their parents understand and overcome the challenges faced by first-generation college students.  CDLC officials plan to produce a video of the panel discussion.

In addition to reaching out to aspiring college students and their families, the CDLC also works to improve outcomes for English language learners through course offerings at UNCG.

For example, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is a professional development program that helps teachers learn how to better serve English learners in their classrooms.  CDLC officials are looking to expand this online professional development program to school districts across the state.

The CDLC faculty also has developed a new doctoral-level course titled “Community Engaged Research and Practice.”  The course is co-taught and cross-listed in several School of Education departments.  In Spring 2013, the course, ELC and SES 770, will be co-taught by Professors Bettez and Hardin.

Graduate students not only support the work of the CDLC, but also shape its plans. 

“They listened to my ideas and they allowed me to participate fully with the group, and I felt like…they really took me seriously,” said Claire Lambert, a third-year doctoral student. Lambert became involved with CDLC as a graduate assistant to Professor Fairbanks. 

She adds that the CDLC’s research takes a “different angle,” considering “the child…as part of the family and part of the community, not only as a student in school.”  Lambert further explains that the CDLC does this exceptionally well because it “interacts directly with people from immigrant communities, and it honors what they do bring…(including) the resources…and the questions that they have.”

Chalhoub-Deville said the CDLC is committed to working with English language learners and to providing mission-oriented products and services. To continue this good work, the CDLC is actively seeking partnerships and funding opportunities.

For more information, visit the CDLC Web site at, receive updates and get involved, or send an email


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