Elder students volunteer with ESL classes taught in local community

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Jack Sheridan '22

Elder High School Spanish National Honor Society students volunteer through BLOC Ministries’ ESL classes that are taught to people in the Price Hill area.

Community service is a fundamental aspect of Elder High School’s mission that it instills in the minds of its students everyday.

Each year, Elder’s students dedicate hundreds of hours to serving the local community through various events, organizations, and charities. Elder’s Community Service Department and student-run groups like the Why Not? Service Group organize many of the events that students participate in, and together, they lead the school’s effort to provide support to the local community.

Different extracurricular groups that students are involved with sometimes require their members to perform service hours too, and this is true for Elder’s Spanish National Honor Society students.

The service performed by the Spanish National Honor Society students is centered around the material that they cover in Spanish classes, and to help serve the local community over the past few months, these students have been volunteering with ESL classes being taught in the area.

Led by BLOC Ministries, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting people living in the Price Hill area, the classes are taught to people, whose primary language is Spanish and who are interested in learning English.

Elder students became involved in the classes when Spanish National Honor Society President Vince Andriacco was looking for opportunities for members to volunteer. “As the President of Spanish National Honor Society, I am responsible for finding service opportunities for members. Earlier in the school year, I met Walter Vasquez, who is in charge of Hispanic outreach with the nonprofit BLOC Ministries. Then, Mrs. Corey and I met with him and discussed opportunities for service, which led to us agreeing to send members of SHH to the ESL classes he organized,” Vince told me.

Walter Vasquez, Director of Hispanic/Latino Outreach at BLOC Ministries, speaks to Elder’s Spanish National Honor Society. (Photo: Elder High School)

When they heard about this, many members thought of it as a great opportunity to earn their service hours. One of them, senior Zach Sargent, has been getting involved with the program during his free time. “I originally discovered this program as a volunteer opportunity for the Spanish National Honor Society. I started about a month ago and I typically go on weekends when I’m not too busy,” Zach said.

The program offers tutoring to a variety of different age groups. “The weekend class that I’ve attended is for people with little to no English experience, which consists of people of all ages. There are teenagers my age, and there are adults with multiple children. I’d say my current group ranges from 18 to 45, and I don’t believe there are any age restrictions,” Zach said.

On the other hand, Vince said his tutoring through the program has been spent mostly with younger children who are learning English. “Most of them are younger, and some are even our age. All of them are recent immigrants,” Vince said.

BLOC Ministries runs the program and offers ESL classes to people in the local community. (Photo: BLOC Ministries)

As for how the program works, I was curious to learn about the types of ways that the Elder students who are volunteering are helping out with the tutoring sessions. “The main thing that we do is work with one or two students at a time and help them practice their English. However, this also means that we are practicing our Spanish at the same time in order to be able to communicate with them. Before and after, we also set up and take down the tables and chairs,” Vince told me.

Zach’s experience has been similar, saying, “Besides the basic role of moving tables before and after the sessions, the most valuable aspect of volunteering is breaking into small groups and helping the students through English books or lessons. I’ve seen how difficult it can be to understand English pronunciation, though through tough, thorough thought it can be understood through and through,” he told me.

I also wanted to learn more about the people who are being tutored through the program. Since BLOC Ministries focuses primarily on assisting those who live in the Price Hill community, I was curious to see if the program is open to people from all across the Cincinnati area.

Neither Zach nor Vince were completely sure about the answer to this question, but Vince told me, “BLOC Ministries is focused on helping those in the Price Hill area, although I don’t think they would turn someone down because of the neighborhood they live in. Everyone in these classes are recent immigrants, mostly from Guatemala, and the majority of them live in Price Hill.”

People learning English through the program are given lessons on many fundamentals of the language. (Photo: Zach Sargent)

Tutoring is a rewarding experience for all those involved. For the person being tutored, it is obviously rewarding in the sense that that person will receive a better understanding of material that they are struggling with. For the tutor, it is rewarding because one is able to share some of one’s knowledge about a particular subject with the goal of helping another person to gain a better understanding of it.

Zach’s, Vince’s, and the rest of the program’s tutors’ help has surely been beneficial to those being helped through the program, but I wanted to get an idea of what they have gotten out of it too.

For me, this has been a very rewarding experience. Before my first time volunteering, I was under the impression that I needed to speak perfect Spanish in order to participate in this program. However, in reality, it is much more important to be able to explain and practice very basic aspects of English. With only a very basic knowledge of Spanish, it is possible to help the class significantly. Additionally, while English normally suffices, there are always opportunities to improve my Spanish. I’ve found that, through the occasional assistance of Google Translate and wild gesticulation, I can participate in basic conversations in only Spanish, which I never thought I could do otherwise. I think volunteering makes the language come alive more than any classroom possibly could,” Zach said.

I think volunteering makes the language come alive more than any classroom possibly could.”

— Zach Sargent

“This has been a very rewarding experience. Not only am I helping others in a very personal and meaningful way, I am getting better at my Spanish. This was the first time I have ever used Spanish in a real life situation, and I have gained a lot of confidence in my language ability from this. Everyone I spoke to was very understanding of mistakes, as they were learning a new language too. Also, they all loved to hear someone else speaking their language. Nelson Mandela said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart,’” Vince said.

Looking into the future, both Zach and Vince plan to continue volunteering through either this program or a different program which is centered around the Spanish language after they graduate.

Elder High School seniors Vince Andriacco (left) and Zach Sargent (right). (Photo: Elder High School)

I absolutely plan to continue volunteering in college. In fact, one of the people I’ve worked with graduated Seton a little while ago, and she used to be taught by Mrs. Corey, so I wouldn’t even be the first to continue volunteering into college,” Zach told me.

“I plan on continuing to take Spanish in college and volunteer doing things like this. I encourage anyone else thinking of volunteering to do so,” Vince said.

Speaking of other students who may be interested in volunteering through the program, I asked Zach and Vince if this opportunity was open exclusively to Spanish National Honor Society students or any student who wishes to help.

“The reason this has mainly stayed within SHH is because there is a service requirement for the Hispanic community for all members. However, anyone else who is interested in practicing their Spanish and helping others can contact Mrs. Corey, Andrew Zimmer, or myself in order to get information about volunteering,” Vince told me.

This example of community service done by members of the Spanish National Honor Society is just one example of the importance of volunteering and serving the local community to Elder High School, and it proves that yet again, Elder students are impacting the local community in great ways.