Selene Angel, 8 years old, has difficulty with math, but still claims it as her favorite school subject.
When Elizabeth Rodriguez, mother to 8-year-old Elizabeth Arellano, went to a parent-teacher conference, Elizabeth’s teacher asked what kind of outside help she’d been getting to put her at the head of her class.
“Where do you send your daughter?” one teacher asked Norma Osario, mother to Alondra Antonio, 7. “Many of the things she knows I haven’t taught her yet.”
Osario and Rodriguez related their stories with the aid of translation by a missionary nun, Sister Margarita Martin. Selene, Elizabeth and Aldondra are just a few of the many children living in Pinewood Estates North, a mobile home park with 210 mostly Latino families, and enjoying the success that comes with a UGA-sponsored tutoring program.
In fall 2002, Sister Margarita’s order, the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded the Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela mission, which is run out of the double-wide trailer that also serves as the nuns’ modest convent.
UGA representatives-including Glenn Ames, director of international public service and outreach-visited the Oasis that December, and by January 2003, the UGA Tutorial Program was sending students there as tutors throughout the academic year.
Now, the tutoring program is managed by the Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education. Around 100 student tutors come each semester-about 25 a day-to help more than 60 grade school students. UGA students are exposed to economic, linguistic and cultural diversity, while the children make marked improvements in school. The children often work with the same tutors each time, thus building a relationship and comfort level.
“I am very grateful. When we came here four years ago, I saw that these children needed help, and of course we couldn’t help all of these children,” Sister Margarita said. “I realized the parents couldn’t help them because they don’t know the language, and many of them can’t read in Spanish.
“We have seen from a child not knowing any English at the beginning of the year to being first of the class at the end of the year, and that’s thanks to the tutors,” she added.
“It’s very meaningful to me because I know we’re meeting a need that couldn’t be met any other way,” said David Latimer, a Goizueta Foundation Graduate Scholar in language education who works as a liaison between Sister Margarita and the tutors. He is also a tutor himself.
“Generally the students are as capable as any others, but they’re having to overcome the language barrier,” he said. “In class, a lot of times they’re just trying to focus on language, and they can’t even focus on the concept being taught.”
The Pinewood Estates students have gotten extra help through tutoring and extracurricular UGA projects held at the Oasis, such as a music therapy program geared toward language development from Roy
Kennedy, director of music therapy in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music. Sister Margarita said she’d welcome more partnerships with other UGA professors who are interested in piloting programs at the Oasis.
In the meantime, it’s clear the tutoring program has had a lasting effect on the children. If there’s any doubt, consider that Selene Angel and her friends-elementary school students Carmen Sanchez, Maria Camacho, Maria Arriago and Elizabeth Arellano-already know what they want to be when they grow up: teachers.