Melody Gao and her Bass Connections Experience

I’ve been interested in studying education throughout college, and I was thrilled when I found an opportunity to combine this with service and research through Bass Connections. I initially wanted to join my research team because I really believed in its goals.

One of our primary goals is to help young Latinx students in Durham retain their language and their culture and to celebrate it. We work with families to create customized Spanish reading sessions based on each student’s interests and reading level. We aim to develop reading proficiency in Spanish, increase motivation to read, and support the ethnic identity formation of each student.

Our team pairs each undergraduate student researcher with a local Spanish-speaking family. We primarily partner with families who have children between eight and eleven years old. Our program consists of seven one-hour reading sessions with the child and their family, which occur once a week.

Each session centers around a book that is written by a Latinx author and that matches the child’s interests. We read the book out loud together and do related activities such as games, journaling and drawing. This model allows for the student researchers to customize their reading sessions based on each child’s reading level and interests. There’s a lot of room for creativity and personalization!

Collage of young students from the reading program.
Photos courtesy of the 2021-2022 project team


I’ve been a part of the Celebrating Latinx Culture with a Spanish Reading Program team for two years. One of my favorite aspects about this project is that it allows us to form partnerships with local community members. We hope that what we’re doing will benefit the families and students we work with, but we also hope it will benefit the Duke students involved.

For families, we hope to strengthen the children’s cultural identity through engagement with Latinx culture, knowledge about their personal family backgrounds, and their ability and desire to speak and retain Spanish. For the Duke students, this program also offers things that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere at Duke — for example, working on this team has offered me the opportunity to practice Spanish in a consistent and real-world setting. Classes alone can be limiting in terms of developing oral proficiency, so I’ve been really thankful for this opportunity to practice with native speakers.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to work with each family for a semester at a time. The structure of our program allows me to see firsthand the challenges and rewards that come with each family’s support of their child’s education. For example, busy parents, learning disabilities and a lack of reading materials can all present difficulties in a child’s reading development.

However, our program also really highlights the strengths of each student and family. These sessions give parents the opportunity to share with their child more about their family history and culture. Their parents’ engagement in these sessions shows children that their parents are deeply invested in their educational success. So far, the survey data we have collected suggests that the reading program increases the children’s motivation to read in Spanish and improves their sense of belonging in their cultural identities.


Members of the project team posing together.
Melody, second from the left, and other members of the 2022-2023 project team


Being part of a Bass Connections team has been such a great experience for me. I’ve been able to connect with faculty and graduate students who have helped me in exploring opportunities beyond Duke. My experience on this team was influential in my decision to teach in a public school for a couple of years after graduation, and mentors on my team helped to guide me in this decision. Bass Connections has been such a wonderful way to get involved with faculty-mentored research while engaging with the Durham community, and I strongly encourage anyone interested to apply for a team!

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