In an effort to reach out to Latino middle school students in DeKalb County, the NIU Literacy Clinic has teamed up with the NIU Latino Resource Center, the NIU Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy and DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 to create a one-on-one, bilingual student-mentoring program.
Creando Caminos, loosely translated in Spanish as “creating opportunities,” is an after-school program for middle school Latino students at Huntley Middle School who need academic guidance.
“We created the program because we felt that it would serve multiple needs,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, director of NIU’s Literacy Clinic and CISLL co-director. “Priority No. 1: provide support for middle school students. Many students need the extra support, but they may not be able to access it at home in English.”
Graduate assistants and volunteers from the Literacy Clinic and LRC staff the program.
Evan King is a Creando Caminos mentor and former teacher. He has a master’s in literacy education and is now pursuing his law degree at NIU. He said students who aren’t performing at the level they need to be academically often lack social skills: “That’s why we spent a lot of effort getting these kids to feel socially comfortable with each other and us.”
As they become more comfortable, he said, it’s easier to instill scholarly skills: “The Creando Camino students don’t know each other. Now they are all together in the same room, and at that age, none of them wants to socialize with each other. It encourages them to build relationships with each other, or at least be comfortable with each other. Once we can earn their respect and trust, we’re hoping that we can teach them more scholarly skills.”
The program’s mentors support students by assisting with homework, tutoring and teaching study skills. The collaboration is designed to provide positive role models while helping the students to see themselves as scholars.
For Eduardo Alvarez, Creando Caminos assistant coordinator, the connection has a deeper meaning.
“I was an ESL student growing up, too” Alvarez said. “I want to show these students that everything is possible if you set your mind to it. I want to make sure that they see what going to school can do for them.”
“These students often times don’t receive this type of attention and support. I am confident it will help inspire them to strive for academic success,” said Emily Prieto, LRC director and CISLL strand chair.
“The LRC wants to see more Latino students successfully access higher levels of education,” she added. “One way these students will overcome their academic struggles is by providing them with the academic assistance they need. This will benefit the community because it will increase the number of educated community leaders.”