Anyone who walks into the Tap Room of the Michigan Union on Monday and Wednesday nights will immediately notice something peculiar: Crayons and puzzles are lying on the tables; some Spanish books can be found at a corner of the Tap Room; there are more adults than usual and they seem to be having conversations with students. PALMA (Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association), a Spanish tutoring group, meets on these days with recent immigrant families from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala and help them learn English.

Beth Dykstra
RC junior Dan Hirschman tutors Pittsville Elementary student Jared Zepeda as part of PALMA. (Shubra Ohri/Daily)

Founded about three years ago by Stephanie Alvarez, Cristhian Espinoza and Solange Muñoz, PALMA has about 100 people working with them today. PALMA aims to help the recent immigrants to learn English and assist their children in their school work.

“I thought it would be a good experience to interact with people of Spanish background,” said Pushpa Chalasani, an LSA junior and the coordinator of PALMA.

“We help the kids with their homework and make sure they are keeping up in school since it is often difficult for their parents to do so with little English knowledge,” said Tara Gavioli, an LSA junior.

Because of the time they spend in the tutoring sessions — they devote their time twice a week to teaching and learning English, as well as the different subjects in school — the tutors and participants become very familiar with each other.

“A lot of the families we tutor are related, so we always try to figure out the complex family tree … and we love to hear all

the kids’ gossip — (it) makes tutoring a lot of fun,” Gavioli said.

“I decided to get involved because I’ve been tutoring in one way or another since middle school, and PALMA was a great way to help the community and use my Spanish,” said Erin McCamish, an LSA sophomore.

Gavioli, a Spanish minor, received an e-mail from the Spanish concentrator mailing list and joined in the winter of 2004 as well.

“I love tutoring with PALMA because you actually feel like you’re helping the community.  I have a great relationship with the girl I tutor which makes the experience really enjoyable,” Gavioli commented.

While forming bonds with the students’ families, McCamish also reveled in the experience of watching her kids progress and learn.

“It can be very hard at

times to keep the kids on track, but it’s worth it when you look back and see how far they’ve come with your help,” McCamish added.

To supplement their English, the material creatively helps kids do their homework. “Kids can get bored very, very quickly with plain black and white math problems,” McCamish said. So instead, the tutors use games and incorporate the surroundings to make learning a little more fun and interesting.

Other than tutoring in the Tap Room, the students also interact with the families outside of school.

“We celebrate their birthdays and some Spanish celebrations,” said Kate Willens, an RC sophomore.

“We also translate for the parents when they sign the leases for housing and when they need assistance in other aspects,” Chalasani said.

Despite the initial language barriers, students, children and parents alike are learning not only how to speak a second language more fluently, but also how to form lasting relationships.

“Their English definitely improves, and all the parents are extremely dedicated,” Chalasani said.


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