The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

ESL volunteers mentor Marshalltown youth

By Caitlin Beckwith-Ferguson

While most Grinnellians are recovering from weekend festivities on Saturday mornings, a group of dedicated volunteers head to nearby Marshalltown to reach out to young buds.

The Grinnell English as a Second Language (ESL) program is a volunteer organization aimed at having volunteers teach and play with kids who go to Marshalltown’s Woodbury Elementary School, a bilingual school where the students are taught in both English and Spanish. Grinnell ESL was founded two years ago by Viridiana Moreno ’11 and Luis Vallego ’13, current co-leader, with the help of Grinnell’s past Rabbi, Howie Stein.

“This idea came out because we saw a need in this community,” Vallego said. “Most of the kids are from poor, immigrant backgrounds, and their parents work all day. These kids don’t have someone to be a mentor to them.”

The Hispanic population in Marshalltown has been on the rise since the 1990s, making up an estimated 15% in 2010 according to the Times-Republican. Despite the Swift & Co. meatpacking raids in 2006, the Marshalltown community still attracts newcomers in search of employment. Many of the Hispanic families are recent immigrants belonging to the working class, with varying levels of English fluency. As such, the value of ESL programs, such as that of Grinnell, cannot be overlooked.

Every Saturday morning at 9:00, ESL volunteers drive to Marshalltown to devote two hours to engage with the kids. The first hour is generally dedicated to something academic, such as a science lesson, the reading of a story, or a presentation of countries around the world. The second hour is dedicated to a recreational activity such as sports, arts, or crafts. During this time, the volunteers have the chance to form personal relationships with the kids and become mentors to them.

“The kids really look up to us,” said Enrique Romero ’15, a volunteer. “You start relating to them and making an impact on them. They really appreciate it, and it is very personally rewarding. You get energized.”

Lorena Ulloa ’15, the group’s current co-leader, agreed with Romero on the value of volunteering with Grinnell ESL.

“Sometimes [the kids] really open up to you about their personal lives; stuff you wouldn’t expect them to know about,” she said. “You can really learn from them and also advise or help them.”

The Grinnell ESL volunteers are a diverse group of students with many different majors and interests. They are able to expand the kids’ knowledge and inspire them by utilizing their Grinnell education and encouraging students to challenge themselves. “Most of the kids have small dreams, like working at Walmart,” said Biva Rajbhadari ’12, another volunteer.

“We tell them about college and give them something to hope for,” Vallejo said.

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