“My parents only speak Spanish, but they understand me when I speak in English most of the time,” says one student in Conexión Américas’ After School NAZA site at Wright Middle School when asked about why they thought that they struggled with their Spanish.

In fact, most students in the program whose parents’ primary language is Spanish said they still speak mainly in English at home. Data from Pew Research Center’s 2015 National Survey of Latinos shows this is a national trend. According to their study, only about 71 percent of second-generation Latinxs speak Spanish at home, as opposed to 97 percent of first-generation Latinxs. For further generations, that percentage is even smaller. 

The youth at Conexión Américas’ After School NAZA site at Wright Middle School are aware of the shortage of bilingual literacy in their community. With the help of our partnership with UnidosUS and the CASA Initiative, our middle school students had the opportunity to work together and create a project fostering bilingual literacy in the Nashville community. 

The young leaders in our program developed a service learning project to enhance Spanish literacy among their peers. Using curriculum and funding provided by the UnidosUS CASA initiative, students worked together with their mentors to implement a series of workshops aimed at promoting bilingual literacy among their peers.

Workshops focused on four main components: the benefits of bilingualism; increasing Spanish vocabulary; reading in Spanish; and writing in Spanish. Many of the monolingual youth that attended the workshops were impressed by their own ability to learn new words. The bilingual students got to see how being bilingual has benefited them in ways they had never imagined.  “I didn’t know that being bilingual could help me with my concentration!” one student stated after participating in the “Benefits of Bilingualism” station that our young leader, Pablo, led. The majority of our youth learned important literacy skills that will follow them home and out into the world.

When we think about the impact that youth voices can have in a community, one thing that stands out is how deeply influential their voices can be. Our young leaders are open to trying new things and breaking the barriers of language and conformity. The students at Wright Middle School have shown that the preservation of our Spanish language roots is in the hands of our youth.