In Project Bridge—what may be a first-of-its-kind program—student volunteers at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. are giving English lessons to catering and facilities staff.
The project was originally conceived by Patricia Tome, a modern languages professor who assigned her intermediate-level Spanish classes to tutor Rollins’ staff for a short time. In January 2012, the then-president of the Latin American Student Association, Tasha Bianchi-Macaraig, took over the program as student advisor.
Today, there are 30 ESL learners, 40 student volunteers, and international business professor Jim Johnson, who teaches a one-hour class each week to the learners. The learner-student pairs meet at least twice a week for one-on-one tutoring time.
“The biggest obstacle was talking to HR and asking if employees could be allowed to go the class without clocking out,” says Bianchi-Macaraig, now a senior. HR granted this paid leave, as well as a $500 per semester stipend for the ESL instructor.
“I use the stipend for class materials, like English-Spanish illustrated dictionaries and textbooks,” says Johnson.
In August 2013, Bianchi-Macaraig convinced the VP of student affairs and college dean to each budget $500 per year for Project Bridge. These funds will be put toward workbooks for the tutors to use with their ESL learners.
Project Bridge is currently overseen by a staff council board, with representatives from the Office of Community Engagement, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Johnson and two student coordinators, as well as the Facilities Department and Sodexo catering services (where most of the ESL learners are employed). The board meets twice a semester to check in on the learners’ progress.
That progress includes learning to self-advocate. “We had an issue where a facilities employee was unjustly reprimanded, but she did not have the English skills to explain her side to her supervisor,” says Johnson. “Her tutor helped her write a letter in English, and all was resolved.”