by Kirsten Hope
I visited the after-school SOAR program at Booker T. Washington today. I must admit that every time I think I know what to expect, these community partners surprise me. I majored in Spanish Education here at U of I, so I thought I knew what was coming with an after-school program. However, when I met Lila Moore and she began showing me around, I was shocked by the amount of students and tutors participating in this program. SOAR caters to every grade that BTW offers, and there are about 50 students participating in the program currently. In the lower grades, there is a high number of Spanish-speaking students (so most of our students work there), and, Lila said, beginning in third grade students begin the transition into English. I visited each grade level with Lila, and I saw not only our students working with students, but also students from other programs, such as Teacher Education.
The SOAR program gives students an opportunity to work on their homework in a personalized environment, where a university student helps them. According to Lila, each day begins with reading, where students must read at least 20 minutes. Then, they do some writing, usually for around 10 minutes. Due to the larger number of university students available to tutor, there is almost exactly a one-to-one ratio with the students, so every student gets quality, individual attention. Finally, the days end with some fun activity, which encourages the students to be social with one another and gives them the opportunity to have some fun after a hard day of work!
I was really lucky today in that I got to see two Spanish-speaking women from the U of I, who work in the Extension Program in ACES, read a story to some of younger children. The story was in both Spanish and English, and students were incredibly engaged in the story, responding in both languages, to questions that the women posed. This program gives students an invaluable opportunity for extra attention and help on their homework that they may not get at home. For example, Lila told me the story of one student who moved here with his family from a Latin American country last year. He and his family spoke no English, and his parents also don't read or write in English or Spanish, so he had a hard time getting help with his homework. SOAR gives him the extra academic support he needs to complete his homework and feel successful in school. Additionally, there is another child who used to have a very poor attendance record. However, after joining the SOAR program, that child consistently attended and stayed in school because the child loved working with the university students so much.
Obviously, this program serves more than just Spanish-speaking students; it reaches out to any student struggling in school and provides them a fun and engaging place to receive individual attention. The Spanish in the Community students provide an additional layer of support for these students in that they communicate with them in their native language. I think that being able to connect with these students and support them academically through Spanish provides them with an opportunity that many schools cannot extend to their Latino populations. SOAR really amazed me in its organization, outreach and commitment to BTW students.