Nydia Negron-Lopez, English Language Learner and High School Equivalency Coordinator at Sampson Community College

When I first met Nydia Negron-Lopez, I was inspired by her bravery and enthusiasm. Dressed in red, white, and blue decorations, she acted out the part of a human firework for a group cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. She was not afraid to look silly for a good cause and bring on the laughs. It made me want to know more about her, so I contacted her for an interview for this blog.

Nydia was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. She loves summertime and the beach and spending as much time as she can with her family. Nydia has a passion for reaching the needs of the Latino community. She started teaching adults in 1999. She worked for the Employment Security Commission (now NC Works) and taught part-time at Wayne Community College and Sampson Community College. She continued working like this for seven years before a position opened up for her to become the ESL and HSED Coordinator in the College and Career Readiness Department at Sampson Community College. 

Interview Q & A

What made you choose to become an adult educator?

I chose to become an adult educator because of my interest in helping adult students become better educated, especially the English language learners who are in need to learn English and integrate into the community.

The adult student is different depending on local demographics and what academic level you are teaching. Describe the average student in your classroom today and some of the ways you encourage their engagement in the classroom.

My class is very diverse, but most are Latinos.  To encourage students, I ask them to do their best.  I assure them that it is ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.  I also allow and encourage students to help each other while understanding that respecting everyone is imperative

As an educator of English Language Learners (ELL), I’m sure you have heard a lot of stories from your students about why they are pursuing their education. What are some of the biggest motivating factors they have shared with you?

There are many factors why students are enrolled in English as a Second Language program.  Some students had shared that their willingness to learn English is to be able to incorporate in the society or to get a promotion at work that might get them a higher salary.  However, the reason that stands for why they are in class is to be able to help their kids with school work and able to understand school officials and teachers.

ELL students create a community environment with their classmates and instructors that encourages growth and retention. Why do you think this is a characteristic trait of ELL students?

One characteristic of the Latino population is that they like to accomplish what they have in mind and their commitment to learning the English language.  That’s what attributes a positive learning environment where everyone helps each other and learns. These students incorporate students from other counties and make them feel welcome immediately.  There is a sense of camaraderie. They value their instructor and the effort they make to help them learn the language and their new culture

What are some of the ways you encourage the community environment in your classes?

Explaining we all are diverse, and we can learn from each other is a method to create a positive learning community.  We have events where students can showcase their culture, their food, and their folk. Another way to create a positive classroom environment is by having students understand that the differences make us unique; therefore, we have to respect each other at all times.

You have a natural charisma that makes you work well with others, how does that help you in the classroom?

I think what helps me is that my parents raised me explaining that we all are human beings despite our skin color, who you are, where you come from,  the social status, or everything else society tried to dictate us. My parents preached to us that being humble, and help others without judging is what we need to do to make this world better.  Therefore, I place myself in my student’s shoes. I put myself if I am in a foreign country unable to speak the language, unable to understand, speak or not even knowing the culture. Nonetheless, I try to understand their needs, assist them with school and to provide community information.  One important rule is we can do all by respecting everyone.

What life experiences do you believe best shaped who you are as an educator today?

Many life experiences shaped who I am today; anyhow, the education I received from my parents was the most significant one.  Another person who influenced how I am today as an educator is my aunt. She was a professor, entrepreneur, and now retired from one of the most prestigious Universities in PR.  She had a Ph.D. in Math and wrote children’s books. She taught us that educators could improve people’s life; by teaching valuable lessons, where students not only learn academics but life skills.

What are some helpful ways that you have been able to reshape negative situations into positive opportunities in your life?

As with our daily lives, we learn from our negative outcomes.  This is how we also used the classroom negatives outcomes and turned them into a positive one.  For example, when a student makes a mistake, and the outcome turns wrong, it is imperative to explain to the students that it is normal, healthy and that is how we learn.  Always explaining them we fall many times before we learned to walk, we mispronounced many items before we learned to talk; therefore, with practice and time, we will master our objective.

How has the ability to shape negatives into positives helped you with your students? Explain.

It help me demonstrating students that mistakes are the way we reach perfection.

What are some things happening in your program at Sampson Community College that make it unique from other colleges?

What makes SCC ESL classes unique is the way faculty and staff approach students.  Making them feel welcome, comprehending them while providing an excellent classroom atmosphere, and going above and beyond to make sure students are receiving the best in academic and their necessary daily skills.

As educators, we are always encouraged to teach towards jobs and job markets that haven’t been created yet, so we stay ahead of the curve and teach what is needed for the demand of the marketplace.

We also see a changing demographic in our student populations over time. Based on your experience, what do you predict the future student to be like in your program and what do you think the job market will be for you to fill?

I foresee the Community College system providing more trade and certification classes. This way students are more prepared to enter the workplace with knowledge and some training and experience.  

What advice would you give to a new instructor coming into the field of ELL education?

My advice to a new instructor is to make sure to understand and nourish the students. Understanding that every culture is different and by not establishing bias or judging because we never know what the reasons are for why they migrate to the USA.