Students bring English tutoring program to more Spanish-speaking residents
It’s a typical Wednesday evening at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. Six pairs of McDaniel student-tutors and their Spanish-speaking students practice English while a band of toddlers and their McDaniel caretakers read books, scribble drawings and play games.
Senior Amber Slater and junior Brandon Morfoot smile. As co-presidents of Palabras to Words (Palabra means word in Spanish), they are savoring the fruits of their labors. Although P2W – as it is known on campus – has been helping Spanish-speaking community members practice English for nearly a decade, the club recently made changes that bring its services to even more people.
As co-presidents of Palabras to Words, Brandon Morfoot and Amber Slater are expanding the club’s offerings to bring English tutoring to more Spanish-speaking community members.
They broadcast news of P2W’s offerings at every community organization, grocery store and church they could think of, and then went to work on maximizing access by offering child care and moving sessions to the Boys and Girls Club, a building owned and provided rent free by the Community of Shalom.
“We had a big surge in Spanish-speaking women because they are now able to bring their children with them,” says Slater, who is from Westminster and is majoring in English and Spanish.
In fact, sitting on and near a mat in one corner of the room, five McDaniel students are crawling with toddlers and little kids. Literally.
“I’m having a blast,” says sophomore Brad Brooks, an Exercise Science and Physical Education major who is also a record-holding McDaniel swimmer, as 1-year-old Isaac plops down on his lap and two 4-year-olds draw pictures close by.
McDaniel record-holding swimmer Brad Brooks and Amber Slater speak only English to the 4-year-olds in their care so that they too learn English as their parents attend a weekly tutoring session.
The club started a conversation hour on Tuesdays and Sunday sessions for the convenience of those who can’t make it on Wednesdays. In the works, say co-presidents Slater and Morfoot, are continued recruiting and retaining through the winter months the tutees who often walk to tutoring sessions – and bringing together everyone involved for a party, a get together that builds community and gives everyone a chance to practice their new language skills.
In all about 30 McDaniel students are members of the club, advised by the college’s Writing Center director Josh Ambrose aka Prof A, who notes that Slater offers club tutors resource hours to support them and help them keep their tutoring exciting and relevant. Each year, more than 76 percent of McDaniel students volunteer for community service, contributing more than 111,000 hours of their time.
“One of the things that has made the club successful is that tutors don’t have be Spanish majors or even know Spanish,” says Morfoot, who is a Spanish major and also an on-call home visitor for the Carroll County Head Start program. “We are immersing our students in English to help them feel more confident in the community.”
P2W member Serra Berry with baby.
Not surprisingly, confidence and comfort is exactly why Alexander Villegas, who moved to the U.S. four years ago from El Salvador, and his wife, Ruth, and their sons, Brian and Isaac, are regulars at the Wednesday evening sessions.
“I want to learn more English for my job in construction and to be able to help my kids in school,” says Villegas, glancing at his tutor, senior Ben Shoudy, for a hint as to how he is doing responding in English. Shoudy smiles and nods. Villegas’ grin widens. Villegas has been working on his pronunciation, and obviously is doing quite well.
Brian Villegas, Ruth Villegas, and Palabras to Words tutor and McDaniel student Jaime Calderon.
For Shoudy, as for all of the McDaniel tutors, P2W is a way to give back and to help others.
“I love language – it is something I am truly passionate about,” says Shoudy, a Spanish and Communication major from Durham, Conn., who just was accepted into a program in Florence, Italy, to be certified to teach English in any European country. “I want to teach English somewhere in Italy or another European country after I graduate. Florence is my first choice but I’ll go where I am offered a job.”
Junior P2W member Sharina Taveras Lopez of Providence, R.I., understands exactly how Villegas and other Spanish-speaking community members feel. The Spanish and Communication major with a minor in Journalism came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 11.
Sharina Taveras Lopez, who remembers the challenges of learning English after coming to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 11, tutors and does childcare with Palabras to Words.
Smiling at the baby girl she’s bouncing on her hip, Taveras Lopez says, “I had to learn English just like them.”