Program ‘a win-win’ for English-language learners, SUNY students

EMC photo by Jeff Witherow

SUNY Geneseo students Sharon Becerra (left) and Rachel Heym (right) tutor Blanca Perez (center) in English Sept. 15 as part of the Project Together program. The program aims to help the area’s Spanish-speaking community with their English proficiency while giving students the opportunity to practice their Spanish-language skills.

Posted: November 12, 2019

By Ketsia Rodríguez/EMC

A recent initiative in Livingston County pairs SUNY Geneseo students with local Spanish-speaking families whose members want to learn or improve their English or need help with their K-12 schoolwork.
 
The Project Together program is a collaboration between the college and the community that is coordinated through SUNY Geneseo’s Center for Language and Cultures, which is part of the Department of Language and Literatures. Rocío Vallejo-Alegre, a Spanish lecturer in language and literatures, serves as the program’s director.
 
Vallejo-Alegre created Project Together after Tim McMahon, former director of Catholic Charities of Livingston County and a volunteer in the local Hispanic community, told her there was a need for courses for migrants who want to learn English.
 
“It’s like the fishing analogy,” she said. “We could provide these individuals with support, or we can teach them English so they can go out into the world and support themselves.”
 
To help spread the word about the program, Vallejo-Alegre has asked local churches to make their Spanish-speaking congregants aware of it. She also occasionally visits local churches to talk about the program.
 
Two of the program’s participants, Norma Alvarado and Juan Trajo, found out about Project Together when Vallejo-Alegre spoke about the program during a Spanish-language Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Leicester. Both Alvarado and Trajo have taken part in Project Together since its inception in the fall of 2018.
 
“It’s a great opportunity, because it’s difficult for us to speak to others, like when we go out to buy food,” said Alvarado, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her husband two years ago. “I’ve gained more confidence.”
 
Trajo, a dairy farmworker who has lived in New York state for 20 years, agreed.
 
Five years ago, Trajo said he began to feel it was increasingly difficult to communicate with others. After participating in Project Together for three semesters, he now has more knowledge of English and is more comfortable speaking it, which he said has opened more doors for him.
 
“It’s a great program for communicating with people,” said Trajo, whose wife and two children also participate in Project Together.
 
Vallejo-Alegre called the program “a win-win” for participating families and SUNY Geneseo students alike.
 
“We help members of the Spanish-speaking community who want to learn or improve their English. At the same time, we offer our students the opportunity to tutor in English, practice their Spanish and be exposed to the Spanish-speaking culture,” she said.
 
Additionally, the program assists Spanish-speaking families who wish to participate but may not be able to due to lack of transportation, said José Romero, an English adolescent education major and linguistics minor who serves as youth coordinator for the K-12 tutors. For the first time this semester, Project Together has supplied gift cards to members of the campus’s Alpha Phi Omega service organization as an incentive for them to drive families to the program, he said.
 
And, for the first time last semester, SUNY Geneseo students can now earn up to two credits for their participation in the program, said Karen Caswell, a junior double-majoring in Spanish and communication who serves as the program’s adult learning coordinator.
 
According to Romero, there are currently 10 adult learning groups and around 12 children who receive tutoring. He said the program originally began with two families and six tutors, and now 22 tutors are needed to accommodate all of the English language learners.
 
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EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information, visit the Project Together Web page at www.geneseo.edu/languages_literatures/project-together or contact Rocío Vallejo-Alegre at vallejo@geneseo.edu or 585-245-5247.

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