Language program breaks chains of illiteracy

by Bryan Keogh

A Chicano-Latino Learning Resource Center program begun three years ago is providing a bridge for young students struggling over the chasms of illiteracy.
Eluid Tirado, a sophomore architecture student, used this metaphor to succinctly explain the El Puente program.
“We are building a bridge with minority kids who need extra help,” Tirado said, “by showing them we made it, and we’re in college, too.”
University students participating in El Puente, which translates as “a bridge,” travel to 14 area schools to tutor elementary, junior-high and high-school students seeking extra help in their studies.
“I’m giving back what I was once given,” Tirado said, explaining how he learned English after moving here from Puerto Rico.
El Puente was born of several state- and University-funded studies conducted by the resource center. The studies, conducted in part by program director Manuel Guerrero, were launched to better understand low minority graduation rates.
Another goal includes giving University minority students a job in a familiar setting, said assistant director Jean Strommer. “This reconnects them with their community.”
President Clinton challenged the nation to have 100 percent of third graders reading when he introduced the America Reads Challenge in 1997.
This program’s funding allowed El Puente to expand beyond its focus on mentoring elementary and junior high school students. Teaching literacy then became a larger part of their mission.
Strommer said El Puente is not just for Chicano and Latino students. She added that everyone involved in tutoring and mentoring can enjoy the multicultural experience the center offers.
Due to El Puente’s success, many similar programs developed to increase the span of America Reads. The Early Literacy Program, Seeds of Promise and the University YMCA began stronger tutoring efforts.
The College of Education and Human Development created the Early Literacy Initiatives program in fall 1998 to better organize tutoring programs. Rosemary Miller became the coordinator of that effort.
Besides obvious benefits that younger students get, the tutors and mentors involved in the program say they love what they do.
“It’s not hard to stay committed,” said Molly Sheeley, a junior English major who participates in the program. “They’re kind of like nontangible benefits.”
Mitchel Tirado, a program mentor and pre-law sophomore said, “We don’t want (the students) to become statistics.”

Bryan Keogh covers professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.