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'Somos South Meck' tells a tale of students’ lives and evolving connections

South Meck teacher Nhora Gómez-Saxon (in pink) watches "Somos South Meck" presentations with students and parents
Ann Doss Helms
South Meck teacher Nhora Gómez-Saxon (in pink) watches "Somos South Meck" presentations with students and parents.

This article originally appeared in Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest schools news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

I met Nhora Gómez-Saxon in 2016, when she invited me to South Mecklenburg High for the unveiling of a book of immigration stories written by her English as a Second Language students.

I went back a couple of weeks ago for the debut of Somos South Meck, a multimedia collection of her current students’ work. It features written stories, videos, podcasts, a YouTube channel and an Instagram account, with segments on the school’s world languages program, sports, style, making friends, preparing for college … and, yes, immigration stories.

Gómez-Saxon and her teaching colleague, Diana Toro, worked with my WFAE colleague Kayla Young and journalist Patricia Ortiz of Enlace Latino NC to create this project. It’s an impressive reminder of how much student communication skills have evolved over the past seven years.

But for me it’s more than that. It demonstrates how education and the media are evolving as well.

Like educators across America, Gómez-Saxon is working to develop the strengths of immigrant and bilingual students.

Like media outlets across the nation, WFAE is grappling with how to better reach parts of the community that have historically been neglected.

And like many white Baby Boomers who grew up surrounded by people who looked and talked like me, I’m trying to figure out my role in a more diverse world.

Growth and opportunities

After that first story, Gómez-Saxon and I stayed in touch with an occasional email or text message. The Latino population kept growing, surpassing white students in CMS. Gómez-Saxon worked with community leaders and fellow educators to make sure those students’ interests were represented.

In 2021 WFAE created a Race and Equity Team to diversify our coverage and our staff, working in partnership with Report For America. I asked bilingual reporter Maria Ramirez Uribe to work with me on a series about the opportunities and challenges facing Latinos in CMS.

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Our first interview was with Gómez-Saxon and a couple of her colleagues at South Meck, which has the largest population of Latino students of any school in CMS.

Last summer Kayla Young replaced Uribe as WFAE’s bilingual race and equity reporter. Report For America requires corps members to do a service project that promotes journalism education. She wanted to work with English learners and asked if I knew any teachers who might work with her. I introduced her to Gómez-Saxon and Toro, and they took it from there.

'Bilingual and proud'

About seven months later I joined a crowd of students, teachers and parents in the South Meck media center for the Somos South Meck debut. Everything on the website is in Spanish, as was the presentation — a test of my high school Spanish and a reminder that this is a growing part of our Charlotte-area culture. (Google Translate is an option for folks who want to read the site in English.)

To be clear, South Meck is teaching students to be fluent and literate in Spanish and English, not instead of English. One student wore a T-shirt saying “South Meck: Bilingual and Proud.”

I looked out at a crowd of young adults who will enter adult society with the advantage of speaking two languages — and with the life skills gained from the obstacles many have conquered to get this far. I saw educators committed to the belief that immigrants can become Americans by building on their native culture, not suppressing it.

I saw the kind of partnerships that are reshaping American journalism. As an English-language radio station, WFAE alone would struggle to reach the Spanish-speaking community. In partnership with Report For America and La Noticia, opportunities open up (it’s been a thrill to have several of my digital pieces translated into Spanish). I cover education better with the insights and language skills of our expanded newsroom. And my experience can open doors and make contacts for younger journalists.

All in all, not a bad place to be in these tumultuous times.


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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.