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Students help youngsters learn English

by Merrie Leininger

If Spanish is your first language, elementary school might be a little intimidating.

Tutoring for Hispanic students at Minden Elementary School has been started with the help of some community teen-agers and YouthWorks.

Susan Searle, director of YouthWorks, previously known as Teens With a Future, along with assistant director Devon Smith and intern Jason Porras, organized the after-school tutoring sessions.

Porras, who is studying toward his master’s degree in social work, said people he talked to said there was a problem among English as a Second Language students in Douglas County.

“I got a call from people who said there were a couple of kids just sitting outside their class because there just was not enough attention given to them in class. The idea was to give them a little more help,” Porras said.

They meet with Douglas High School students who speak Spanish or who are in a Spanish class once a week for a couple of hours and the six high school students help the 10 MES students complete their homework. The program provides snacks for the kids and also provides transportation home if parents cannot pick them up.

Denise Munoz, 15, a 10th grader, said Spanish is her first language, and said she wanted to help the students because she knew there just aren’t enough Spanish-speaking teachers in the district. Munoz said she experienced a similar situation in Los Angeles when she was growing up.

“I wish there was a class exactly like this (when I was in elementary school). There wasn’t that much help since there were so many kids,” she said. “I like being with the kids. They’re so happy and full of energy.”

Senior Ana Pacheco, 18, said she wants to be a teacher. She said she clearly remembered starting school and not being able to speak English well.

“I remember the little girls talking to me and I didn’t understand anything. The first years (were hard). Then I got help from a teacher,” she said. “I thought it would be nice (to be a tutor), since I went through that. I like helping them out and we have fun, too.”

The first session of the program, which is five weeks, is almost over, and a second will start May 11 and continue until school is out for the summer.

Because this is the first attempt at providing the program, Porras said they are waiting to see results, but would like to expand to other schools.

Porras said the program does not expect to produce outstanding results, just to improve classroom behavior and hopefully, homework skills.

For instance, Searle said, one boy in the program was not allowed to go out at recess before, because he never had his homework done. But now he can, because the tutors encourage him to do his homework.

Jose Munoz, 11, is in the 6th grade, and comes to the tutoring program.

“I had to write an essay on the Victorian Era. They see if my work is right. They check my homework and the things I have to study,” he said.

Willie Bautista, 8, is a 3rd grader and was working on multiplication homework.

“They help you with your homework. (Before) I didn’t do all my homework. That’s why I have to come here. They explain it to us,” WIllie said.

Luis Pina, 7, a 2nd grader, said the group has fun.

“I can do my homework faster and we play games,” he said.

Katie Lake, 16, a 10th grader, was helping Luis and other students. She is taking Spanish this year from Allen Gosselin and said he has encouraged her to be a part of the program, even though she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently.

“He made me excited to be in the program and comfortable with my level of Spanish. He taught us if you don’t know the word, how to hint around at the word. With their Spanish and mine, we’ve been getting along pretty well,” she said.

Katie said she wants to be a doctor, but has been interested in the learning process since starting tutoring.

“I’ve been interested in seeing how well they learn when there is just a little more effort. They definitely have been improving so much, even though we are in here just once a week,” she said.

Devon Smith said the program can use more volunteer tutors. She thanked the tutors and the donors who have made the program possible, Bob Good, the Valley Cruisers and the Hall Foundation.

For more information, or to volunteer, call 782-8611.