Gabriela Garcia-Perez, 18, of Guilford, Connecticut, a senior at Guilford High School, started a mentoring program that has recruited dozens of high school and middle school students from her hometown to help elementary school students in nearby New Haven with their English skills, share fun educational and cultural activities, and help the English-language learners become active members of their communities. In January 2018, Gabriela attended an event for Puerto Rican families that had relocated to New Haven after Hurricane Maria devastated their island. “This event helped me realize the importance and need for integrating non-English-speaking students into our society in a timely manner,” she said.
Gabriela thought that getting some of her peers in Guilford together with young English learners in New Haven could benefit both groups. She presented the idea to the principal of Fair Haven School, who agreed to let her introduce a mentoring program as part of the school’s extracurricular Saturday morning sessions. She immediately began recruiting mentors, identifying children who could benefit, and planning lessons. Currently, Gabriela has a pool of about 40 mentors who work with younger kids on English skills for 45 minutes on Saturdays, and then join them in a gym class featuring exercise and cultural activities. The program has made a big impact on the participating children, but the strong relationships that have been forged may do even more for the mentors, said Gabriela. “Being immersed in a community much different than their own, with multiple backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, has definitely taught everyone to be more understanding of other cultures,” she said.