Lisa M. López

Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families? Who was an important mentor to you in this work? What tips do you have for someone starting out?

As a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, a bilingual and bicultural city, I didn’t give much thought to the fact that I spoke both English and Spanish or how lucky I was to have secure relationships with my family and friends and attend quality schools. It wasn’t until I was a psychology undergraduate working in the lab of Dr. Daryl Greenfield at the University of Miami, visiting and working with children in Head Start, that I realized what a privileged life I had lived. I was the daughter of hard-working immigrants but had so much richness in my life: the opportunity to learn two languages, strong parental involvement in my education, and high-quality schooling. I also had a strong sense of my bicultural identity from growing up in such a bicultural and bilingual city. I realized then that I wanted to dedicate my life’s work to helping Latino children have a life similar to the one I had.

Working with Dr. Patton Tabors at the Harvard Graduate School of Education was a life changing experience. She taught me so much of what I know regarding language and literacy development of Latino children and opened so many doors for me in this field. I had the honor and benefit of working with her on the first longitudinal study on the normative development of language and literacy in young Latino children 18 years ago. I honestly believe I am where I am today because of Patton’s influence on my life. She was a true mentor and friend.

The best advice I can give to someone starting out is: dig deep inside of you, identify your passion, and seek out mentors and colleagues who will help ignite it. I continue to seek out colleagues and mentors who help me on my mission to leave this world a better place than I found it. I am always encouraging my students to reach out to potential mentors. Having multiple mentors helps you understand research through different lenses and can open doors to new ideas and new opportunities.

Research Spotlight

We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it. 

Honestly, I am excited whenever I get to publish work focused on Latino children. Latinos are the majority minority but there is still a dearth of research on what is normative development for Latino children in the U.S. Latinos are the new normal and we cannot meet their academic, social, and emotional needs without knowing how they develop. It has been so difficult to break that publishing wall and I have more rejections than I would like to admit. I do feel like we are finally getting to a place where there is more acceptance of research on Latino children and families.

Lately I have been very interested in home and classroom factors that promote positive development in Latino children. In the home I have been focusing on language exposure and use and its role in children’s language and literacy development. I have a paper currently under review that takes a unique look at language exposure and use at home and has many exciting findings. The findings highlight the heterogeneity in regard to language use at home among Latinos in the US. One of the findings I was most interested in was that over half of the mothers in the sample only speak Spanish. We have to work harder at helping practitioners understand that telling a parent to speak English to their child is detrimental to their language development. Another interesting finding was that 15% of the bilingual mothers chose to speak only Spanish to their child at home. Understanding the language dynamics in the home can help us better tailor curriculum while respecting the language decisions within the home.

In schools I have been looking at classroom factors and teacher characteristics that promote Latino children’s cognitive and social skills. We recently had a paper published in the Early Childhood Education Journal (Ramirez, Lopez, & Ferron, 2018) where we found that teacher training, teacher’s cultural competence, and teachers’ experience working with dual language learners had positive effects on Latino children’s language and literacy development. We need to do a better job of training our teachers on working with dual language learners. I am currently working with a student on publishing an analysis of the literature regarding teacher training programs and how to train teachers to work with this growing population. Unfortunately, there is not much being done. My colleague Dr. Mariela Paez and I just signed a contract to write a book for Early Childhood Educators and Leaders in which we will be sharing the latest research on dual language learners and helping early childhood educators integrate the knowledge obtained from this research within the classroom.

Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?

I will be presenting two papers at SRCD and am serving as the discussant of another session. Here is the info on the sessions:

Thu, March 21 4:00pm to 5:30pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Room 329

Lopez, L.M., Ramirez, R., Barreto, J., & Christie, D. (2019) Language interactions and classroom discourse promote vocabulary and math skills in preschool classrooms serving DLLs. In N. Rojas (Chair), Bilingual Education Program Models & Classroom Practices for DLLs: Processes and Outcomes from Preschool Through Elementary School.

Fri, March 22 10:00am to 11:30am, Hilton Baltimore, Key 2

Lopez, L.M. (2019). Validating language acquisition theory by exploring home language exposure and use among young Latino DLLs. In G. Luk (Chair), Social Language Ecology in Dual Language Learners in the U.S..

Sat, March 23 2:30pm to 4:00pm, Hilton Baltimore, Key 1

Lopez, L.M. (2019). Discussant in G. Luk (Chair), Classroom Language Use and Learning Outcomes in Dual Language Learners in the U.S.

Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences

Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latino Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latino Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.

Serving as co-chair of the SRCD Latino Caucus for the past two years has helped me meet amazing colleagues who motivate me daily. The Caucus plays such an important role in the future of SRCD. By highlighting the important work our members are doing we are really changing the face of SRCD. We have partnered with the Black and Asian Caucuses to help push a social justice framework to the forefront of the mission of SRCD. Our research has such important implications for policy and practice. I see the Caucus as a venue for helping to disseminate that research. As chair for the next two years I am hoping we will be able to host a Special Topics meeting that highlights some of the work our members are doing. I also want us to develop a relationship with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus so that our research truly influences policy decisions.

Email: lmlopez@usf.edu

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