Monday, January 14, 2013

ALA tutors start work at Wolfe Street Academy

Member of ALA Celebrate Dia de los Muertos at Wolfe Street Academy

December 14, 2012
By Hannah Block
The Park School Class of 2015
Reprinted from Postcript

There are new tutors in town, and they’re not from KIPP or Homework He1pers. The Alianza Latina en Acci6n (ALA), or Latino Alliance in Action, works with students at the Wolfe Street Academy in an effort to help and promote awareness of the Latino community.

ALA stemmed from the recently disbanded Esperanza club, a language immersion community service initiative that, last year, limited their volunteers to only adults. In light of this new change, Lorenza Ramirez ‘14 and Spanish teacher Ileana Imhoff started looking for other ways for Spanish-speaking students to reach out. Two things motivated them: the lack of a Latino outreach program now that Esperanza was gone, and the need for a discussion about immigration.

"We were particularly fueled by the tone of the immigration debate during the political campaign and wanted to learn more about these issues, and also to involve more students in the conversation,” Imhoff said.

At Park, the club invited guest speakers and works with Lower School Spanish teacher Silvia Patterson’s 4th grade class on the last Thursday of every month. “It is important for our younger students to see other young people engaged in issues of equity and diversity in our community,” Patterson said. “They are also very excited about how well the Upper School students speak Spanish and the possibility of speaking that well themselves in the coming years.”

The club’s main focus, however, is the Wolfe Street Academy. The school was a natural choice to partner with because 73% of the students are Hispanic and speak English as a second language. Moreover, there are two people involved at the school who have Park connections: the principal, Mark Gaither, is married to Alumni Coordinator Pailin Gaither, and Connie Phelps, the Wolfe Street Community School Coordinator, graduated from Park in 1989.

Every Thursday from 3:30 to 6:00, the tutors help students with homework, usually working with the first and third graders. After homework is done, the kids can play if there is time before dinner, which the school provides in the cafeteria. The tutors then help serve the meal and keep the kids company while they eat.

ALA’s impact is already beginning to show. “The students ask at snack time if the ‘kids’ are coming,” said Stephanie Given, third grade teacher. “I have seen first-hand how the children are eager to interact with [the tutors]. Honestly, sometimes they even pretend to need help just to spend one-on-one time with an ALA member.”

“Because each classroom consists of one teacher, it is difficult for each child to receive the attention they need,” explains Michael Brice-Brooks ’14. “For many students, these homework problems are difficult, especially since they have to practice these concepts in a language they may not speak at home.”

ALA also gets to celebrate events with the Wolfe Street students. On November 1, the club members celebrated El Dia de los Muertos at Wolfe Street, and plans are underway for the club to attend future events, as well.

In fact there are many exciting things on the horizon for ALA. Other plans include a panel of speakers on immigration, a clothing drive, and having Wolfe Street students visit Park eventually.

Fundraising is also in the works; Wolfe Street needs funds for transportation and art supplies. Members agree that the purpose of ALA meets the goals that Ramirez and Imhoff had in mind: expanding Park’s boundaries and supporting the Latino community.

“Students at Park oftentimes speak of ‘The Park Bubble’ but [ALA] has created a bridge between the Park School’s culture and a culture that is entirely different,” said Brice-Brooks. “As our faces have become more and more familiar, the students have shown a certain fondness that is difficult to explain. (…) It has become apparent through these relationships that, as a volunteer, I mean more than just a homework helper.”

“I can’t even tell you how happy it made me just to see some of my teachers and peers walking through the hallways in the ALA T-shirt,” said Ramirez. “To me and to all the other members of the club, the shirt was much more than just a piece of clothing: it was a symbol of the progress for the club as we make an impact on both the Park and Wolfe Street Academy communities and increase awareness in the process.”