New School students tutored Mexican (American) immigrant children at MASA (Mexican American Student Alliance) in the South Bronx one evening per week for the entire semester. Prior to New School students starting their involvement with MASA, they all had to pass background checks with included, but was not limited to, personal interviews and reference checks. MASA also provided New School students with an orientation in which they not only learned more about MASA but also a bit about the Common Core Standards, and how to help the children with their homework and reading. Some New School students also took advantage of participating in weekend events that MASA organized for the Mexican (American) families. These opportunities provided a chance for New School students to learn more about Mexican (American) immigrant experiences and get to know their students and families better.
At the conclusion of the semester we asked our New School students to reflect on their experience volunteering with immigrant youth at MASA. (Quotes have been edited for clarification and spelling errors.)
Emma Julia Vos:
The life of a child migrant is often highly complex and full of challenges that are far beyond his or her control. Working as a tutor at Masa was essential in allowing me to draw links
between our in-class discussions and the realities faced by members in my direct community. My written reflections and readings for the Mentoring Through Making class have allowed me to think critically about the ways in which children are represented in stories of immigration.
It is essential for us to think critically of the shortcomings in our systems with regards to how we deal with migration matters.
The beginning of my time volunteering with immigrant youth proved to have its own set of worries. I recall leaving work, hopping on the train uptown to the South Bronx, and as every stop passed, I mentally prepared myself for what I imagined would be a swarm of children in a slightly disorganized yet playful manner. Arriving at MASA (The Mexican American Students’ Alliance) for the first time was overwhelming. It was the kind of feeling you get when going on a first date. All I wanted was whoever I was assigned to mentor to not only like me but find my way of teaching engaging – nevertheless, I was a ball of nerves.
I sat at a desk, supplies in tow, nearest to the exit away from the magnetic energy of the main room. On the desk was a name, we’ll call him Benny, a third grader. I let out a sigh of relief that he was younger. Admittedly, I have never been that great at math so I was worried that if assigned an older student I wouldn’t be able to fully provide the assistance they need. Not long afterwards I overheard another mentor who was uncertain about how to explain solving a math problem to a student. The program associate came over and guided both mentor and student through it. Seeing that gave me greater assurance I would have support if I were to ever come across a tricky problem during my time at MASA, which came to be inevitable. Benny was this adorable six year old with a vibrant personality to match. We hit it off during our first session and it made me feel good that I could converse with him about challenges he stumbled upon. He taught me all kinds of things as well.
What makes this a meaningful experience is how much I am still learning about how my presence can make a substantial difference to a young person’s future.
Ani Ventocilla King:
They are just kids, they love being silly, and they might be tired after a long day and not want to do homework from 6 to 8 PM. It is completely understandable, and sometimes requires patience, other times if they have a lot of work to do it requires sternness, and most of the times you just have to be silly with them for a moment and then coax them to do their work once they know you are there to support them with all your attention. Mostly it is a combination of all the above.
During a semester-long period I was a volunteer tutor at MASA. Every Tuesday from 6pm-8pm, I tutored two second grade students with their homework. My first day was an introductory session where I introduced myself and gave the students a chance to introduce themselves other than how the coordinators described them to me. Although it felt like any other after school program, it became a different experience when one of the students started telling me about her home and school life. She was born in the United States but because no one spoke English in her house, she was not able to be fluent in English herself. She mentioned to me the difficulty she had pronouncing “simple words” and often being shy to speak up in class. I asked her if she receives any help from her teachers when she is stuck but her answer is what made me wonder of the requirements the school system places upon young immigrant students. She answered, “No, we have to go with a special teacher after school to learn English and then go to another class to get homework help and then I come here for more help.” Placing this much pressure on a second grader made me question the rigidity of the education system another challenge she and many other students have to face.
By volunteering with immigrant youth this semester, I have learned some valuable lessons and met incredible people. During the volunteer orientation in the fall I learned the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Even though I have always believed that intelligence is not a fixed trait, but is developed over time, I did not realize there were actual terms to describe this point of view. This was also my first time working with children and I could not be more thankful for the five-year-olds who I tutored. I was a little nervous at first because I only had experience tutoring high school students, but the students were no trouble at all. Throughout the semester, the students showed continuous improvement and can now write their full names entirely on their own. Something that I really liked about MASA is how they stressed positive appraisals for their students. They made sure that all volunteers were able to promote a growth mindset by praising the process rather than the person. Overall, I believe that immigrant students highly benefit from having positive role models, like the workers and tutors at MASA, where students are surrounded by people who believe in them and their academic success.
In order for Mexican immigrant youth to excel in school, there must be community support. Alienation within a new school system can cause a student to fall behind and lack the guidance they need to identify and pursue their ambitions. This community should also be developed outside of school in non-profit organizations such as MASA.