U students reach out to Latino youths

More than 60 University students volunteer at area schools through the EDUCATE Program.

Jamie VanGeest

Between milk and cookies and dance lessons Tuesday, teenagers made time for six University student-tutors.

Every weekday afternoon a group of University students tutors teenagers in a variety of subject areas, as part of the Engaged Department Undergraduates Challenging Access to Education Program through the University’s Chicano studies department. The program is in its second year.

The students volunteer at La Escuelita, an after-school program for Latino middle-school and high-school students to help them prepare with homework. More than 60 University students volunteer at La Escuelita and three other area schools through the EDUCATE Program.

Pedro Ruiz, a senior at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, has attended La Escuelita for the past two years.

“They do a lot of different things here; it’s not the same stuff like it is in high school,” Ruiz said.

He wants to eventually study graphic design at the University.

With a new grant through Campus Compact, La Escuelita will to develop a college preparation course and provide help with ACT preparation, college applications and financial aid, said Blanca Raniolo, the program coordinator at La Escuelita.

The grant will help address education issues in the Latino community, said Louis Mendoza, chairman of the University’s Chicano studies department.

Some of the issues include not having enough English as a second language classes in area high schools and parents not having enough time to help students with their homework.

The EDUCATE Program will provide resources to La Escuelita, including a visit to the University in April.

About 95 students from nine Minneapolis schools use La Escuelita services Monday through Thursday.

La Escuelita provides homework help, English classes and preparation for the Minnesota Basic Standards test.

The program also offers weekly Aztec dance lessons and science projects.

A majority of the students who are in the program are also in a service-learning class through the Chicano studies department, said Lisa Sass Zaragoza, an outreach coordinator for the program.

Mendoza said, “The young students benefit by having a college-age role model.”

Marlesa Shields, an African American studies sophomore, has volunteered at La Escuelita since the beginning of the semester. Between time spent helping a group of girls with their homework Tuesday, she passed out chocolate milk and cookies.

Spanish studies senior Alex Cuadros said the University students’ presence motivates the students in La Escuelita to want to go to college.

“It’s a great way to learn about my culture and give back to my community,” Cuadros said.