Rebeca Mireles-Rios develops a program that helps the community and grows researchers

Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Rebeca Mireles-Rios classroom

Forget about research to practice, at times work at the Gevirtz School is research as practice. Take the project Department of Education Assistant Professor Rebeca Mireles-Rios participated in with the Homework Help Program at the Family Literacy Center from 2016-2018. Housed at the Santa Barbara Public Library, local K-6th graders can come for one-on-one 20-minute tutoring sessions. Those sessions are with UCSB undergraduate researchers, up to 30 of them each quarter. “We really want to keep this program going as well as expand to support the many other incredible outreach programs the library offers the community.” Mireles-Rios says of the project that has been funded on and off since 2016, “As it’s beneficial not just to the students and families there but to our students.”

Many of the undergraduate researchers began as sophomores, and Mireles-Rios half-jokes they say things like, “I want to work with kids but I’m scared of them” before they begin. Yet, they are trained not only to help—in subjects like reading, math, and social studies—but also trained in data collection. Their meticulous field notes chart student growth over time, like a typical student who came in not even understanding his homework assignment only to be reading at above grade level a year later.

It’s crucial this site is in the community and tends to bring families, not just elementary school children, in. As one UCSB student participant put it, “Consistently going you establish this rapport with the students.” That means the UCSB students become tutors, researchers, and mentors, especially since over half of the assistants were bilingual and spoke Spanish with parents and grandparents. Mireles-Rios claims that the family members would confess, “I don't know anyone who went to college, I don’t know what that means—how do I get my child there?” and then the UCSB students would become role models and be able to show how to navigate the college-admission pipeline.

The research and mentoring certainly changed the lives of many of the UCSB students. Some have earned their B.A.s and then gone on to UCSB’s Teacher Education Program to earn teaching credentials. Others have matriculated into education doctoral programs, at both the Gevirtz School and Harvard.

In her “Fast & Curious” talk titled “Libraries as a Local, Learning, Community Effort” two years ago, Mireles-Rios closed with the policy impact of all this work. Clearly we need to expand to more libraries and recognize that libraries are a prime space for programming,” she said. “This work can be a crucial means to expand the university-community partnership.”