Ford Foundation aids UF Latino immigrant education effort

UF bilingual/ESOL education professor Maria Coady will play a leading role in a $400,000 initiative of UF’s Center for Latin American Studies to develop an interdisciplinary outreach program on immigration, religion and social change.

 The center recently received a two-year grant for that amount from the Ford Foundation to develop effective modules of intervention, exchange and outreach addressing the urgent needs of immigrant Latino communities in North Florida and other southeastern states. Program for Immigration, Religion, and Social Change (PIRSC)–the three-part grant project–focuses on intersecting immigrant Latinos and churches but also ties into legal rights, education, and health care.

 The center is partnering with nongovernmental organizations in the region and faculty in the colleges of Education, Nursing and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Outreach support comes during a highly polarized climate of growing hostility toward immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the five states with the fastest growth rates in Latino populations were along the south, where controversial anti-illegal immigration bills have appeared.

 “The intense pressures experienced by many new immigrants and the lack of social services available to strengthen their neighborhoods and communities have created serious social and cultural tensions in many parts of the South,” Coady said. “There is a clear danger of generating a new, permanent underclass living at the margins of society. We want to see people integrated into communities and able to move forward in life.”

 As principal investigator of the grant’s education portion, which draws $85,000 in support from the Ford award, Coady will lead efforts with local schools to train educators and community leaders, and build family-school-community partnerships based on a “family-strengths-based approach” in Levy and Marion Counties, Fla., and other communities being identified in southeastern Alabama.

Coady has hired Abigail Nelson, a spring 2012 master of education graduate, to work with her.  She is also collaborating with the Rural Women’s Health Project, UF’s College of Nursing and the Center for Latin American Studies to provide training and services to new Latino immigrants.

“A family-strength based approach is grounded in the notion that families, in particular linguistic and culturally diverse families, bring resources to the communities and schools where they live,” Coady said. “These resources can–and should–be used by educators for teaching and to build a partnership with families that benefit kids.”

Her educational project is one of three main initiatives. The Ford Foundation grant supports developing a network of local organizations working in the area on immigrant integration and local civic engagement. Health care access is another focus, with researchers developing and evaluating a community-health worker intervention program to improve health literacy and health-care access among immigrants in the South.

Many of the educational and outreach services—including informational events, retreats, conferences and workshops co-sponsored with faith-based organizations—will be provided in church settings, where immigrants often turn for help and solidarity, Coady said.

A Newcomer Center in Levy County will open this fall, offering bilingual materials that explain how schools work, school enrollment packets and information about clinics and healthcare.

Coady is recognized as an international authority in bilingual and ESOL education. The Institute of International Education’s Fulbright Specialist program, which connects top educators and other professionals in the United States to institutions in more than 100 countries, selected her earlier this year as a candidate in teaching English as a second language and applied linguistics. She has the opportunity to create and engage in short-term projects at an institution or country in need.

She joined UF’s College of Education faculty in 2003 and became a tenured professor in the School of Teaching and Learning in 2010. Coady earned her doctorate degree in social, bilingual and multicultural foundations of education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. 


Maria Coady, associate professor, UF College of Education, 352-273-4228;
Nicole La Hoz, communications intern, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449;
Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;


Education Week

Ester de Jong (ESOL/bilingual education)

ESOL/Bilingual Professor Ester de Jong was cited as an expert source in two articles – a news article and a blog, both by staff writer Leslie Maxwell – in the May 23 edition of Education Week, both offering comprehensive treatments of the accountability issues affecting English language learners (ELLs) and their schools. De Jong was quoted saying Florida’s school grading system should weigh the performance of English-learners on the FCAT, based on their proficiency levels.