Program offers tutoring for Hispanic children

Drew Pendleton

Founded in spring 2003 by Michael Schnepf and currently directed by Shirin Posner, both current professors of Spanish, the Spanish Outreach program offers students the opportunity to earn course credit by working as tutors for native Spanish-speaking kindergarten to high school level students in local Tuscaloosa and 
Northport schools.

“There was a need in the community for helping younger members of the rising Hispanic population here,” she said. “So, we decided to help out.”

Working in conjunction with English as a Second Language coordinators in the Tuscaloosa city and county school systems, Posner said the students selected to participate in Outreach spend six hours a week with students at the school to which they are assigned, working with the ESL coordinators to schedule times during the school day. Students also keep a journal of their experiences, which they review with Posner once every two weeks throughout the semester in order to earn three hours of credit towards a Spanish major or minor.

Taylor Holmes, a junior majoring in biology currently participating in Outreach, said she works with a group of about four to five students at a local elementary school.

“We pull them out of class, and just cater to what they need,” Holmes said. “Sometimes the teachers give us work for them to do, and sometimes we come up with our own things to do.”

Holmes said the range of subjects Outreach participants cover is incredibly varied, as is the age of 
the students.

“We help out everyone, definitely,” she said. “Right now, I’m helping out kindergarteners with the alphabet, and at the same time I’m helping a fifth grader with 
long division.”

Posner, who took over the directing duties of Outreach after Schnepf began the Alabama in Cuba program four years ago, said the Outreach program is both an 
incredible opportunity and a challenge for students.

“Most students start out overwhelmed,” she said. “But it’s a great chance to get real-world experience and use what you’ve learned as a Spanish student to make a 
difference in the community.”

Holmes said she has benefitted from the experience, and has advice for anyone considering the program.

“You have to be open to mistakes,” she said. “The students don’t mind. It’s especially about the interaction for them. They may have friends that speak Spanish too, so spending time with you may be the only Spanish-to-English translation they have all day. It’s a different kind of experience, and it’s definitely worth it.”

Posner said the program, which is offered every semester, has a clear purpose that goes beyond the 
language barrier.

“In the end, Outreach is about people helping people,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to have. It’s a chance to change the future of a child, and there’s 
nothing better than that.”