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Professor builds community education programs with students

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Clarena Larrotta, Adult Education Program coordinator, poses for a photo March 10.
Photo by: Abdul Qasem | Staff Photographer

A professor at Texas State University has experienced the struggles of being an immigrant and English language learner, and she is taking steps to help people in similar situations get an education

Dr. Clarena Larrotta, education associate professor, wanted to create programs to help immigrants and English language learners cross the cultural divide—as she once did.

She merged community service programs in order to create an adult, professional and community education program, which is mutually beneficial for her graduate and doctoral students.

“I work with the library, creating volunteering opportunities for our students in the masters program to work with people in the community,” Larrotta said. “Every summer, I organize an English club to help adults who are learning English as a second language to practice their English with doctoral and masters students.”

The program allows students to learn about how individuals came to the country, and then they are able to understand the realities of their lives, Larrotta said.

It provides a reciprocal relationship, where the students do research and simultaneously serve as conversation partners for adults in the community who don’t have the resources to pay for private English classes.

Larrotta works with the St. John’s University “English as a Second Language”  program to help immigrants. In addition, she created an assessment tool to help pace their students. Larrotta volunteers at the local Hispanic Cultural Center and Kyle Learning Center.

“I see the impact through our students,” Larrotta said. “They go and learn from real people in real situations and they collect data in an authentic way instead of doing something that is disconnected from reality and from the community.”

Larrotta said she traveled a long journey to get to where she is today.

“My path started in Colombia,” Larrotta said. “I completed a bachelor’s degree to teach English. Then, I went to Puerto Rico for my masters in English as a second language and then again to UT-Austin to get my PhD in education.”

Ted Ingwersen, doctoral student in the adult, professional and community education program, said he had personal experience working with the community.

“As students, we engaged adult learners in English literacy activities,” Ingwersen said. “In return the learners were willing to share with the doctoral students a bit about who they were, what they were hoping to learn from the time together and what values and goals motivated them to pursue their education.”

Ingwersen said it is important that Larrotta has introduced this type of program to Texas State.

“Larrotta leads by example and fully embraces the single greatest purpose behind education—to bring people out of poverty, to give the downtrodden hope and to provide a means of paying it forward,” Ingwersen said.

Freda Bryson, doctoral student in the adult, professional and community education program, said Larrotta’s programs enhance the community.

“It’s really interesting to meet people who have degrees,” Bryson said.  “The lady I interviewed was a nurse in her country and in order to become a registered nurse, she would have to go back to school in the United States.”

Students who are exposed to the community and work with individuals may gain a greater understanding of the world around them, Larrotta said.

“Because I am an international faculty member, I bring that kind of expertise and diversity,” Larrotta said. “Now that we are going through this difficult time for immigrants, it’s something that helps the students understand what we are going through in terms of politics.”

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