Margaret Perdue Community, Culture, Language: Recipe of Success 11/08/18 11/08/18 12:41:41 AM
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Margaret Perdue is excited to be working in the midst of South Omaha’s reawakening, as the neighborhood becomes more vibrant every day. (Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Community, Culture, Language: Recipe of Success
By Emily Kerr
The Daily Record
Imagine moving to a foreign country and having no knowledge of the native language. The confusion,
cultural anomalies and day-to-day life seem daunting to tackle all at once.
Margaret Perdue, program director
of Pathways to Success at the Latino Center of the Midlands, is seeking to bridge the gap for those who need a bit of extra assistance along the way.
Growing up in a small town in southwest Iowa, Perdue attended the University of Iowa before beginning
her path to education and administration.
At the time, she was, “definitely exploring. Straight out of college I worked for AmeriCorps Vista program.
I was interested in education but didn’t know if I wanted to become
a teacher or if I was looking at administration. That was an opportunity
for me to really get a feel for it.”
Teaching middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, she participated
in a public initiative to improve
reading achievement in students.
In this program, volunteers from local organizations and businesses
interacted one-on-one with students to improve their skills. At the same time, she began teaching
English as a Second Language (ESL).
“I worked with refugee students who had recently arrived, teaching English, and I loved it,” she said. “It was just a real eye-opening experience.
It pieced together my love of language, that social aspect and the interpersonal aspect. It helped me see that was what I wanted to do.”
Having studied French and German in college, Perdue mastered
her third language, Spanish, through immersion and self-study.
It was her time in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the town of Miahuatlán de Porfirio Dîaz, that truly led to her mastery of conversational Spanish. Perdue stayed for more than four years teaching ESL at La Universidad de la Sierra Sur, working
with kids of all ages.
After just one year, she was offered
the position of director of the language department. In this position,
having immersed herself into Latino culture, she said she realized the impact language really has.
In time, she established real bonds with the people of Oaxaca.
“I got to meet a lot of people and had a lot of people who would welcome me into their homes for different cultural events and holidays,”
she said. “It was very humbling
and rewarding. I saw the importance
of engaging with another culture with humility and respect. It was a big honor to be asked to participate.”
She noted that relationships are built through language, which gives individuals the ability to showcase their personality. She was always dealing with the issue of, “How do I express that when I don’t have that language?”
In fact, she said going through the process of learning a foreign language herself “adds extra empathy
for individuals who are learning English as a second language.”
Upon coming back to the United States, she said she wishes immigrants
from other countries could receive that same welcoming experience
Perdue came to Nebraska to work with OneWorld Community Health Centers, whose mission is “providing
culturally respectful, quality healthcare with special attention to the underserved.” One of the ways they offer health care is through school-based health centers.
With a desire to continue working
within the Latino community, she began teaching ESL again at their Learning Community Center of South Omaha, building bonds with each of her students.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said.
After six years at OneWorld, she left to become the Latino Center of the Midlands’ program director of their Pathways to Success program (P2S), partnering with dynamic individuals
to foster the blossoming Latino community.
The Center emphasizes that “We utilize innovative and creative approaches
in mentoring and education
to help individuals develop to be healthy, productive, contributing and responsible citizens.”
As director of the program, she explained her mission: “To support
the team and the mission of the agency – ‘to prepare youth, adults, and their families for successful lives;’ and by doing that, support the youth and their families in the school system.
“That’s what I really want our program to focus on. That’s why I wanted to come work here, because of the amazing professionals that are so dedicated and driven and really
committed to the students and their families and the community.”
Pathways to Success uses an innovative
In the three-prong program, one aspect helps students improve their school attendance.
“(The program) focuses on students
who have a history of chronic absenteeism, so our student advocates
are attendance mentors,” she said. “They have a group of students
that they each meet with regularly
and monitor their attendance. We follow an evidence-based curriculum
for that and really build that relationship.
“Research shows that attendance is the strongest indicator of on-time graduation, so we work to address those barriers that they may have getting to school and engaging at school … ultimately working towards
an on-time graduation and then a more secure economic future.”
In the Leadership Development curriculum, evidence-based activities
are conducted in groups that meet weekly in schools, as well as at the Latino Center itself.
“(It) looks at engagement,” she said, “at how youth transition from adolescence to adulthood and what does value development look like, and how is that something we can support and engage as peers and as a community? It’s also looking at culture as a source of strength for that positive identity formation.
“Some of our students that have been in the program come back and volunteer with us and help us out and feel that they got something from the agency or program they still want to be involved with.”
Sharing in community, culture and language, the Latino Center of the Midlands is in great hands with Perdue at the helm.
If you would like to get involved or learn more about the Center, visit
www.latinocenter.org and their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LatinoCenterOfTheMidlands.
Making Pathways to Success:
Meet Mahatma Largaespada
The mission of the Latino Center of the Midlands’ Pathways to Success program: “To support the team and the mission of the agency – ‘to prepare youth, adults, and their families for successful lives;’ and by doing that, support the youth and their families in the school system.
Margaret Perdue, program director, explained: “That’s what I really want our program to focus on. That’s why I wanted to come work here, because of the amazing professionals that are so dedicated and driven and really committed to the students and their families and the community.”
One of those dedicated and committed professionals is Mahatma Largaespada, Student Advocate for Pathways at Bellevue West High School, where he currently serves 20 students. He’s one of three student advocates in three local high schools, serving 9th through 12th grade students at Bryan, South, and Bellevue West high schools.
Student advocates are housed at each school site where they provide individualized case management activities and make appropriate referrals to school and community resources. Home visits are made to maintain communication with parents/guardians on their students’ progress. Program activities also include monthly “lunch and learn” skill building sessions, family nights, field trips and summer workshops.
Largaespada is also the Lead Facilitator of Joven Noble/Ollin, (Noble Youth/Men) a nationally recognized, evidence-based curriculum in a group model at the Center (LCM) and at Bryan High School, South High School, Bellevue East High School and Bellevue West High School/ It’s under the P2S umbrella. Trained facilitators hold weekly sessions with youth around issues related to avoiding risky behaviors and building a positive value system.
Largaespada’s been at the Latino Center for four years and his enthusiasm hasn’t waned, which is evident when he talks about his work. “The goal is for these students, who are at-risk and often disengaged, to achieve graduation. To that end, we work to reduce absenteeism. And we develop relationships: we listen, advise, work to change their negative mindset about going to college. I work closely with the parents and the family. It’s a team effort.
“I am a mentor to them, spending the whole day with them at school, tutoring, giving them whatever help they need, whether it be applying for college and for scholarships, finding a job, whatever they need.
“I want them to take ownership, to make them want it, to know they will make it. And it’s all in the little things. When the outcome is good, it is very good.”
The program is open to any student, not just Latinos or other minorities. All races are welcome, he said.
How does he measure success?
“Well, as an example, here’s a kid who missed 70 days of school last year. This year, it’s less than 60 days. And he passes his classes. That is one measure of success.
“One of the most satisfying things for me is a student who comes back to us to give back by helping at the center and mentoring younger students,” Largaespada said.
“We work for a non-profit. We don’t work for the money. We believe in what we’re doing. We value those we work with.”
Largaespada is an immigrant for Nicaragua who moved to Norfolk, Neb., in 1998 and to Omaha in 2009, where he became a math tutor for ESL students at Omaha South High School. Now he’s giving back – or paying it forward – for all the help he said he got when he arrived in Nebraska.
Perdue agreed, saying “Some of our students that have been in the program come back and volunteer with us and help us out and feel that they got something from the agency or program they still want to be involved with.”
As for his boss, Largaespada said, “Margaret is awesome. We couldn’t do it without her. I feel sort of sorry for her, often stuck in the office with a lot of paperwork. But she helps us so many ways.”
In the three-pronged Pathways to Success program, one aspect helps students improve their school attendance. “Research shows that attendance is the strongest indicator of on-time graduation, so we work to address those barriers that they may have getting to school and engaging at school … ultimately working towards an on-time graduation and then a more secure economic future,” Perdue said.
In addition to the Joven Noble program – which is funded with the support of the Nebraska Crime Commission Juvenile Services Grant, United Way of the Midlands, City of Omaha Historical Grant, and The Women’s Fund of Greater Omaha – the Leadership Development curriculum “looks at engagement, at how youth transition from adolescence to adulthood. What does value development look like, and how is that something we can support and engage as peers and as a community? It’s also looking at culture as a source of strength for that positive identity formation,” Perdue said.
– By Lorraine Boyd