Maya Angelou "It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."
This individual team member feature coincides with an exciting announcement for our lab: we just received the notice of award for our first NIH grant here in the UofSC LDDL Lab! The project focuses on investigating educational assessment approaches to help us identify Spanish-English speaking children at risk for difficulty learning to read and write. The project will be conducted in collaboration with Texas A&M University (PI Marc Goodrich, with current PhD Student Lauren Thayer).
This would not be possible without the support of all of our team members during the last few years. It is fitting that we have the opportunity to highlight Kaiela at the same time we are making this announcement! We would not be where we are today without her.
Along with Jaddey and Molly, Kaiela was among the first to join the Literacy Development among Diverse Learners (LDDL) team in the fall of 2018. Kaiela has been an active contributor from her first day, attending foundational initial lab meetings, sharing feedback on lab policies and procedures, and exhibiting leadership early on to support other team members in working with Spanish-speaking children and their families. She has been instrumental in establishing the LDDL lab and in inspiring those around her. Since graduating in May 2021, Kaiela has remained an active contributor as she has developed a first-author manuscript (co-authored by Jaddey, Rose Luna, Rachel Hoge, and myself) in preparation for submission to a peer-reviewed journal this fall. She has continued to move this exceptional work forward while working additional jobs, preparing to apply for medical school, and finalizing plans to gain experience working in the medical and/or research field. Kaiela's innovative ideas and aptitude for research are remarkable, evidenced not only by her paper in preparation but also by other ideas she has discussed in poster presentations (see above links) and professional development seminars.
In this feature, there are three specific areas that are particular strengths for Kaiela, though she has contributed to the lab far beyond these key points (see partial list of additional contributions at the bottom of this page):
In regards to leadership, Kaiela stands out both within and outside the LDDL Team (notably, Kaiela was president of her sorority Kappa Delta Chi from August 2020 - May 2021 and inducted into the UofSC Hall of Leaders in 2021). Not only has Kaiela led by example since first starting in the lab, but she distinguished herself for her communication skills, problem-solving, and work ethic. In the spring of 2019, Kaiela was one of three individuals selected for a full Research Assistant position. In this role, Kaiela expanded on her strengths to support fellow team members through trainings to administer standardized assessments, develop responsive communication skills to engage individuals from various age groups and backgrounds, and reflect critically on systems of power and how these influence children's educational experiences. Throughout the 2019 year, Kaiela further demonstrated her high-level abilities through problem-solving in thinking about our work more broadly, and constructive supervision and mentorship of new team members. In the fall of 2019, Kaiela earned a peer nomination for LDDL Team Leadership and subsequently a promotion to "Lead Tester" alongside Molly Morgan. The Lead Tester position is the most senior student position on the LDDL Team, and correspondingly requires strong leadership skills including solution-focused critical thinking, setting and communicating clear expectations, and prioritization of overall team well being. Kaiela more than met the requirements for this role, particularly given that she served as a Lead Tester during the start of the lab's first grant (see here) that supported data collection on a fairly large scale in local elementary schools. The team met the grant's goals in record time, an extraordinary feat given that the work was disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic impacts beginning in March 2020. Kaiela was instrumental in moving the LDDL Team's work online and maintaining relationships with lab members during the disruptions and shifts in team functioning.
Kaiela also has clear strengths in analytic problem-solving and critical thinking, most evidently demonstrated by her research projects conducted to improve language and reading assessment for Spanish-English speaking children. She is inquisitive and unsatisfied by cursory solutions to complex challenges. She asks insightful questions and reflects actively, working with her peers to think through problems. Within the lab, these skills have resulted in two high-level research projects, the first of which focused on potential bias in a receptive vocabulary measure designed for Spanish-English speaking children. Kaiela examined the measure for patterns in children's responses, and her findings ultimately resulted in a pivot within the team to use a more culturally-appropriate measure. The second project, which is currently being written up by Kaiela, Jaddey, and Rose, built upon these ideas further and was first generated from discussion initiated by Kaiela about sentence repetition tasks. Kaiela identified patterns in the errors Spanish-English children were making in their responses, and hypothesized that some of the errors could lead to different inferences about the children's underlying language abilities. For example, when a child translates a sentence verbatim, this is likely to suggest higher-level language skills than would rudimentary translation (though for both responses, a child would receive no credit according to standardized procedures). Since initiating the project, Kaiela and Jaddey have both spent innumerable hours transcribing, coding, and cross-checking over 150 audio files generated by kindergarten and first grade students. They have not only developed incredible research skills through this experience, but also have expanded their writing skills (alongside Rose). Beyond this, the work is important and has the potential to inform how speech-language pathologists interpret bilingual children's responses to these types of tasks.
Kaiela is also an incredible advocate for the Hispanic Community. As a first-generation college student and a Hispanic woman, Kaiela not only draws on her personal background experience and strengths to uplift others, but she also encourages those around her to do the same (or better). During the 2019-2021 years, Kaiela specifically volunteered for and then fully planned meetings with fellow lab members to discuss issues related to equity and inclusion in tangible ways. She identified pre-reading materials that would compliment the focal topics, created outlines to guide discussion among team members, and facilitated conversation during the meetings. These meetings were well-attended (despite being held virtually) and resulted in additional reflection among team members weeks afterward. This work also laid the foundation for increased efforts among team members to provide data and resources to advocate for more intentional supports for Spanish-speaking families and children in the public schools. Kaiela volunteered to attend several meetings with local school administrators and contributed greatly to discussions of barriers experienced by families, of recommendations for sustainable support systems, and revision of school-generated plans to promote inclusive practices in the classroom. These contributions were remarkable, and did not go unnoticed by the administrators - Kaiela received high praise for her advocacy and for her knowledge. The work Kaiela has done cannot be overstated, especially in how it has impacted those around her.
Additional Key Contributions from Kaiela
We continue posting features to highlight individual contributions within the Literacy Development among Diverse Learners Team. If you have any questions about any team members, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (FITTONL@mailbox.sc.edu).
quantitative research. methodology. statistics. diversity. bilingualism. equity. education. assessment. speech-language pathology.