Latino Student Alliance Tutors Close to Home

October 1, 2009 — A new partnership between the University of Virginia and Albemarle County Public Schools focuses on a fast-growing demographic in the area.

U.Va.'s Latino Student Alliance is offering tutoring and mentoring primarily to Spanish-speaking children right now, with the goal of expanding to other children in the future.

A few U.Va. students volunteered individually last year and this summer, working with Albemarle schools community engagement manager Gloria Rockhold. It was so rewarding that they decided to formalize the program.

The students sought input from Phoebe Haupt-Cayasso, head of multicultural services in the Office of the Dean of Students, and administrative support and training from Madison House, the U.Va. student volunteer center.

"There is one-on-one tutoring, plus mentoring," said Alexandra Triana, a second-year student who is the alliance's community outreach chairwoman. The tutoring takes place twice a week at the nearby Southwood Community Center. About 30 undergraduates work with one or two students each.

One of the goals of the program is to reach out to the families of the young students they are helping, to involve the parents in their children's education and offer mentoring to them, also. The U.Va. tutors answer parents' questions about school scheduling and other activities.

Studies indicate that students who are struggling academically and from low socio-economic backgrounds often are from families who need help with the educational process, Rockhold said.

"The partnership works to bring students, mentors and their families together as partners in education, and to help families learn how they can be more involved with their child's learning, which leads to better achievement," she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Albemarle's Latino population more than doubled between 1990 and 2000. Most of the youth with whom the U.Va. tutors are working have Latino backgrounds – Mexican, Salvadoran and Honduran. They speak Spanish at home, but in tutoring, they must use English as often as possible in order to do better in school.

When Rockhold visited one student's home, she found the girl crying because she wasn't able to do her math homework. The girl's mother was frustrated because she was good at math in her native language, she said, but couldn't explain it in English. Now the mother is also getting tutored, so she'll be of more help to her children.

The U.Va. students are involving families in another way – by inviting them to events like last month's Symphony Under the Stars concert at the University and a picnic this month.

It's all part of bonding with the children, said Allie Cooper, another tutor. The alliance recruited mostly first- and second-year students to encourage them to work with the same children for three or four years.