First in a continuing series.

Every day Georgetown students participate in the D.C. Schools Project, traveling beyond Healy Gates to poorer neighborhoods where the majority of the District’s non-English speaking residents live.

Today the program features multiple components including school visits, after-school tutoring, home visits and adult English language training.

The District of today, as in the past, is an American melting pot. Of the city’s 570,000 inhabitants, 13 percent, or 73,561 residents, are foreign-born, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. D.C. Schools was founded in 1984 by Georgetown alumni and administrators and primarily served the District’s large El Salvadoran population throughout the 1980’s. But shifting ethnic migrations have expanded the project’s base to serve Asian and even African populations today.

The integration of many global cultures into the city requires a reasonable command of English, essential for ensuring education, health and employment resources. Yet, over 38,000 immigrants are identified in the census as speaking English “less than very well.” School-age children struggle in classrooms, while working adults require assistance reading and writing in English. Some adults even demonstrate much-needed literacy training in their native languages.

Albert Wat, director of the D.C. Schools Project, said he recognizes the difficulty of addressing these issues which often transcend age and ethnicity.

“One of the most challenging things is that we serve a range of students we work with, from kindergartners to adults who are 70 years old . in terms of training, it’s really challenging to come up with a training program,” he said.

To meet the large requirements of a diverse student base, up to 200 tutors are recruited from the student body each semester. Over 170 students were recruited in the fall semester, according to Wat.

Despite its name, a significant component of D.C. Schools is dedicated to in-home tutoring. The One to One program takes volunteers into the homes of ESL students twice weekly, allowing direct interaction between immigrant families and D.C. Schools tutors.

“A lot of these families have arrived recently, [staying] only as long as a year or two,” D.C. Schools tutor Paul Roitshtein (COL’05) said. “Students can talk with the parents . you’re in the family’s house, and things are going on. Talk about a divide in atmospheres.”

In addition to providing literacy instruction, the tutors also serve as cultural ambassadors, educating parents about community and city resources. For many Georgetown tutors, experiencing immigrant culture first-hand leaves lasting impressions.

For other tutors, helping others overcome language barriers is nothing new.

“I have immigrant parents, I dealt with the difficulties . after doing various community service projects in New York City, I wanted to get in touch with the [immigrant] community in Washington,” Joslyn Ureña (SFS ’07), a D.C. Schools site coordinator, said. “D.C. Schools provides me with that opportunity to work with them,”

Carmen Fitzsimmons (COL ’08) is a site coordinator at acFarland Middle School in northwest Washington.

“It is more challenging of a job because it’s a middle school,” she said. “I’ve tutored for five years before coming to Georgetown. I do speak Spanish, I am part exican . it’s important that the ESL community is being reached out to.”

D.C. Schools also gave an opportunity for two friends to forge their own relationship. Andrew Kwan (SFS ’08) and Brian Nafarrete (SFS ’08) both started tutoring a pair of young brothers for the One to One program, going to an immigrant household twice a week and interacting with the family.

“They’re immigrants from El Salvador, their English is very broken. The parents work all the time, the dad will come home at 1 a.m., and their mom works all night,” Kwan said. “We had to work our schedule around theirs because we want to help them.”

Nafarrette said he agreed that the odd hours and arduous efforts were outweighed by the chance to help develop children’s ability to succeed in life.

“We’re making sacrifices, but it’s definitely worth it,” Nafarrete said. “The advantages of One to One is developing relationships with the kids, and [there is] potential of becoming a sort of big brother.”

Wat hopes to expand D.C. Schools’ presence in the homes of immigrants.

“In the next ten years, [what] would be really valuable is working with more family units,” Wat said. “Right now we have an adult program on the weekends. It would be great if we can get more kids involved in the home tutoring program, so everybody is being served.”

Nafarrate summed up his sentiments.

“This is an opportunity to reach out, help a child, learn about other people and just take a break from Georgetown.”

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