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Burke County parent educator uses personal experience to connect with Latino families | WFAE 90.7

By February 2, 2022COVID-19

Ted Pedro starts his day welcoming students as their parents drop them off at school.

“Good morning, how are you?” he says in Spanish as he helps three children get out of a car.

It’s 7:30 on a Monday morning and the students were just coming back from a week of virtual learning because of the snow.

Pedro is a parent educator at Mountain View Elementary School in Morganton. He started working a few months after the school opened and was the first in Burke County to fill the position.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe

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WFAE

At 7:30 a.m. Ted Pedro welcomes students to Mountain View Elementary School

Supporting students, parents and teachers 

“My role was a parent, educator/interpreter,” Pedro said. “But I started seeing there were more needs out there. Not just necessarily with the parents but with the kids. Then I started seeing we need to give support to teachers.”

Four years later, he provides support to parents, teachers and students. He starts his day by looking at his schedule.

“The first thing I usually do, especially now, is just give my nurse some updates,” Pedro said. “And then from there, it’s quite a few kids I’ve got to check on and see how they are doing.”

Because of the pandemic, Pedro now works closely with the school nurse. He calls parents to make sure students are following the school’s testing and quarantine requirements if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

He says he was on the phone until 10 p.m. the night before checking in on families. And throughout the morning, the calls keep coming in.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe

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WFAE

Ted Pedro meets with Mountain View Elementary School nurse to update her on students who are in quarantine.

Before becoming a parent educator, Pedro worked for the government as an interpreter. But he says his own experiences as a kid are what have helped him the most in this role.

“A lot of our families are newcomers coming here,” Pedro said. “I explain to them, I’ve been in your kids’ situation.”

Personal experiences inform everyday work

Pedro was only 3 years old when his parents fled Guatemala. He says his father was being persecuted. But Pedro and his 3-month-old brother were left under his grandmother’s care.

He remembers going to the store one day and chasing after a bus after seeing his parents get on it.

“My grandma was like, ‘No, they went out and they’ll be back. They’ll be back later today. Don’t worry,’” Pedro recalled. “That evening came into days, days came into weeks, months, years went by. I think about seven months into me being by myself and screaming and crying. Finally, my grandma told me they’re gone.”

It would be another four years before Pedro saw his parents again. His mom got sick, so his dad traveled back to Guatemala to pick up Pedro and his brother and take them to Los Angeles.

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Courtesy of Ted Pedro

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WFAE

Ted Pedro with his family on a recent trip to Guatemala.

Pedro remembers traveling by bus for a few days. Eventually, they made it to the border in Tijuana. He says his dad told him when he said ‘go’ they had to run.

“I’m here running with my dad, dark at night and crossing the border. Helicopters, horses, four wheelers, just they’re scattered everywhere. The police sirens going off and telling us, ‘Stop,’” Pedro said. “And you’re there. You’re running, and we cross a river and water up to our chests running through. And we just like ran and ran and ran and ran and ran. I don’t know for how long, how many minutes we ran, but it felt like an eternity of running.”

At 7 years old, Pedro was starting first grade in a new country where he didn’t speak the language. In fact, he spoke little Spanish. Pedro is from Huehuetenango in Guatemala, and his first language is Q’anjob’al, a Mayan dialect.

“No Spanish at all. No English. Coming to this country was hard,” Pedro said. “And coming in as a first grader trying to figure out how to maneuver being in this country was hard.”

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Maria Ramirez Uribe

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WFAE

Ted Pedro walks with students at Mountain View Elementary School

He says this helps him relate to the families he works with at Mountain View Elementary School, where 43% of the students identify as Latino.

“Finding somebody that speaks the language is good. Don’t get me wrong; that’s always a plus,” Pedro said. “But somebody that has gone through the system or has gone through something similar to this, I feel like we have more passion for it. We understand what’s going on.”

After living in Los Angeles for a few years, Pedro and his family moved to Morganton, where he graduated from high school.

Inspiring others to support Latino families and students

Mountain View Principal Christie McMahon said Pedro’s experiences are part of what has made him so successful in his position.

“He is already a wonderfully established member of our community here in Burke County, and so people already knew him and he already had some community connections,” McMahon said. “And that’s been super helpful, too, because it was easier for him to establish that trust and rapport with people.”

McMahon started as principal three years ago. Pedro had already been a parent educator for a year. She says having him in the position helped her communicate and build community with Latino families at the school.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe

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WFAE

Mountain View Elementary School Principal Christie McMahon

“Having that extra layer of support because of the communication piece has been super helpful,” McMahon said. “It definitely has taken that barrier away or that challenge has definitely been less than because of it. So it’s been a huge support.”

Pedro’s story has gained traction across North Carolina.

In October of last year, members of the state Board of Education Committee on Government and Community Affairs met with Burke County’s parent educators. They then presented their experience in a report.

Freebird McKinney, the board’s director of government affairs and community outreach, says the hope is that by sharing Pedro’s story other districts across the state can implement similar programs to address the needs of Latino students and families.

“Building out that long term partnership and that triumvirate between the student, the family and the school district and how it could literally lead to generational transformation as we help these students on their pathway to prosperity,” McKinney said. “And I think that’s probably one of the most promising pieces of this.”

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Maria Ramirez Uribe

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WFAE

Ted Pedro is in constant communication with Mountain View’s Latino families.

‘I know I found my little niche’

Back at Mountain View Elementary School, Pedro goes about his normal routine. He checks in on students, asking about their day and how their families are. He also meets with a parent who is concerned the COVID-19 vaccine could affect her daughter’s health condition.

Throughout it all, he’s in constant communication with Mountain View’s Latino families. His phone has been routinely going off.

“I’m just trying to catch up on some texts that some parents have sent me,” Pedro said.

He says that some days being available 24/7 can get tiring but that through it all, he’s proud to be giving back to his own community.

“I think every person is made to do something in life. I know I found my little niche,” Pedro said. “I enjoy it and I’m enjoying it. It’s been four years, and it feels like it’s just been a couple of months.”

Pedro says his biggest advice for working in this role is patience. Not just for the parents and students, but also for the teachers.




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