UTEP Researchers Study Combination of ESL, Health Literacy

By Daniel Perez
Posted: 10/29/10

Researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso who have studied the value of combining health literacy and English as a Second Language curriculum will begin this week to review student surveys and focus group responses to the program’s first phase.
Francisco Soto Mas, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education. Francisco Soto Mas, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education and the project’s primary investigator, said 89 adult students were involved in the six-week program that ended in October. Another group will be studied using the same materials in the spring.
The fall students attended ESL classes at El Paso Community College’s Rio Grande and Mission del Paso campuses. Two classes had traditional courses and two included the new health literacy curriculum.
The goal of the two-year study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is to determine the association between literacy and good health. The researchers believe the ESL students will be more interested in learning about healthy habits when the information is combined with a traditional ESL program.
“More than 600 people were interested in participating in this program,” Soto Mas said. “We were good at recruiting and successful at retaining the students and that was important. It’s difficult to ask adults who have to work and have families to volunteer to commit to classes two times a week.”
Soto Mas is among 10 researchers from colleges and universities around the Southwest who plan to document how the students respond to the curriculum based on their ability to read, comprehend and do basic calculations as they progress through the semester-long course.
This project had been planned out for about a year and included a two-week pilot program during the summer. Many of the 20 students involved said they had become more confident health advocates, said Brenda Fuentes, a team research associate who is working on her Ph.D. in teaching, learning and culture at UTEP.
El Pasoan Rosario Tovar was enrolled in the summer program. She was not able to take the fall classes because of her work schedule, but looked forward to taking a longer class in the future.
“It was a good course,” she said. “Now it’s easier for me to understand prescriptions and fill out forms at the doctor’s office.”
The $420,000 grant is the first NIH research grant awarded to the College of Education. The study could lead to additional opportunities to go beyond the traditional health sciences research, said Josefina V. Tinajero, Ed.D., dean of the college.

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