Words from the mouths of young children float through the classroom in a symphony of Spanish and English.
It’s the summer tutoring clinic at El Puente, a Wright State University-led tutoring program to help young Latino children succeed in school. The clinic, which is held annually at St. Mary’s Center in Dayton’s lower eastside, is in its fifth year.
Tutoring the children are 39 Wright State students from the College of Education and Human Services who are working on their master’s degrees. They often huddle with the young Latino students, their parents and translators for two-hour stretches at a time.
Stephanie Leonhardt, an adjunct education professor at Wright State who helps run the program, said the Wright State students are exposed to Spanish and the Latino culture, which may help them in their teaching jobs.
“And it helps them because the tutoring is usually a one-on-one experience,” Leonhardt said. “To work with one child for two hours can be challenging. You have to be creative and use a lot of your skills.”
Wright State student Erica Riggs of Kettering, who is currently teaching kindergarten in the West Carrollton school district, said the tutoring has improved her skills in teaching reading and interacting with parents.
“The biggest challenge is that it is summer break for the students and they want to play; they’re not really in the school mindset,” Riggs said. “But most of the kids are willing to work. I hope to bridge whatever gap they may have because they speak Spanish at home and during the summer they lose some of what they had just learned.”
Riggs said she was pleasantly surprised at the large number of children who participated in the voluntary program.
“At the beginning of the summer, some tutors had more than one student because there were so many kids,” she said.
El Puente was created by Tony Ortiz, Wright State’s associate vice president of Latino affairs.
Alyssa Wagner, El Puente program director, said the popularity of the program has expanded in large part from word of mouth by the parents.
“I think our fame is growing to a small degree,” she said.
Wagner calls teaching at El Puente her “calling.”
“I get to work with the kids, who are hilarious; they always have something funny to say, especially in the combination of English and Spanish,” she said. “I get to work with college students who are really passionate, and with the parents. That’s the reason they came here in the first place, to give their children a better future than what they had.”
Jim Dunne, Ph.D., an associate professor of education at Wright State, oversees the university students at El Puente.
“My students get a whole lot out of it, and I think the El Puente kids do too,” Dunne said. “I’m not the most emotional person, but this is always a very nice kind of experience for all of us.”
Wright State student Ben Williams of Centerville, who just got a job with Centerville city schools as an intervention specialist, tutored a boy going into the fifth grade who needed help with social studies.
“A lot of times students in fourth and fifth grades, that’s where the gap starts happening as far as reading expository texts because they are just introduced to it,” he said.
Williams also worked with the boy on three-digit subtraction, warming up with flash cards and then getting him to the point where the boy could get 55 problems right.
“Multiple times he said, ‘I really like coming here and working with you,’” Williams said. “There is no better feeling than that because that’s what you go into teaching for.”