Centre volunteers say bienvenidos to local Spanish-speaking students
October 7, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
Tuesday and Thursday afternoons tutoring ESL students from
the local community. The afterschool program is a joint
community-based learning and Bonner effort.
After helping students with their homework, Centre volunteers
play games and lead the ESL students in other fun activities.
Elizabeth Wisman (standing), Bonner coordinator at Centre,
played a significant role in bringing the program to campus, and
the College's ITS department donated 10 laptops with wireless
access for students to use for homework assignments when needed.
Project leader Emily Lindon ’14 says that the goal is “to provide
each student with individualized attention in a safe and positive
learning environment, which we hope will encourage them to
continue their education while we practice the use of English
through work and play.”
Since Centre College initiated its community-based learning (CBL) program last year, students and faculty have had more opportunities than ever to lend a hand to local businesses, schools and non-profit organizations. And this year, CBL has teamed up with the College’s Bonner Scholars Program to offer instruction and entertainment to children in English-as-Second-Language (ESL) classes and those from migrant families at local schools.
Taking advantage of the CBL initiative, which encourages and enables professors to integrate community service into their curriculum, Spanish professors Genny Ballard and Phyllis Bellver have asked students in their Spanish 121 courses to take part in the afterschool program. Other students are involved through a CBL component in a psychology class and Spanish 220.
The program, which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon in Centre’s Combs Center (also known as “the Warehouse”), offers local ESL students the chance to receiving tutoring from Centre students. And although many of the participating ESL students speak Spanish, there are also three French-speaking students, two Ukrainian students and one Chinese student taking advantage of the program.
“We’re reaching a portion of the community that has rarely been helped before in the afterschool realm of service in Danville—those who need extra help with English—and their continued presence thus far is only proving how large this need was before we began our program,” says Melissa Perry ’12, one of the project’s leaders.
Elizabeth Wisman, Bonner coordinator at Centre, played a significant role in bringing the program to campus. Others leading the project include Perry and three fellow Bonner Scholars: scholarship recipients who are dedicated to community service, perform at least 10 hours of service each week in the local community and partner with community leaders to conduct needs assessments and develop programs to address those needs.
Several Bonners are volunteering for the joint program with CBL, and other students from Centre are participating simply because they wanted to get involved.
Brittany Corrigan, a Bonner and one of the leaders of the program, says she was inspired to participate “by the number of Latino children who often do not get the homework help they need. Many times, these kids are struggling but constantly seem to fly under the radar. Many of these kids are from immigrant families in which the parents don’t speak English or aren’t even literate. They don't have the support system that many of the nation’s kids are fortunate enough to have. This program was a great idea, allowing Centre to reach out to these kids in a way they hadn’t been helped before.”
After the 26 participating children arrive at Centre and eat a snack, the tutors spend an hour helping them with homework or completing practice activities. Once the study hour is complete, the Centre volunteers lead the children in a fun activity, such as Twister, card games, arts and crafts and more.
“The Centre students help them complete any homework assignments for the day and do extra practice on specific academic issues the child might be struggling with—multiplication or punctuation, for example,” says Kerri Howard, coordinator of Community-Based Learning through the VISTA Americorps Program. “And we have plenty of books, materials and educational games on hand if the children don’t have homework. All the activities are geared toward forming a healthy and supportive relationship between child and tutor and bringing the child up to grade level in academic subjects.”
Emmy Robichaud ’13, another of the program’s leaders, explains that the program provides more than help with homework assignments. “As rewarding as it is to help complete a math worksheet or witness a child read English for the first time, what we are doing at this program reaches far beyond the immediate benefits,” she says. “By providing a safe and encouraging environment for learning, we hope to foster positive and meaningful relationships. In fact, we encourage each tutor to go beyond the minimum and take a mentoring role. Our goal is to cultivate a thankful culture that values education enough to turn around and make a difference in a child’s life.”
More than 50 Centre students are taking part in the program. Many are tutors (and mentors) who work individually with the students; others ride buses that pick up the children from school, help prepare snacks and serve as “on-call” tutors.
“I was immediately attracted to this program because of the rare and unprecedented support that it offers to students who would otherwise be unable to receive individualized tutoring,” Robichaud says. “One of our goals was to provide transportation for any child who wanted to come–both to and from the program. From the moment I pick the children up from school to when they climb out of the van at their homes, I’m continually impressed by their cheerful attitudes and hunger for learning.”
Perry says that watching “relationships blossoming between our awesome volunteers and the children they’re tutoring” is the most rewarding aspect of the program.
“I think we're giving these children hopes of one day attending a place like Centre College by providing them with such excellent role models who are proud to be students here,” she says. “Young, struggling students need encouragement like this after a rough day at school.”
Watching the children “open up,” Corrigan says, is another gratifying aspect. “The first day almost every kid was silent,” she says. “The Warehouse was very quiet, and we all sat awkwardly staring at each other. But now the kids laughing, talking and playing like they had been a part of the program since day one. It’s so rewarding to watch the kids learn to trust us and let us help them.”