English Tutoring Project expands with mentors in high school

Posted by on Mar 9, 2020 in News |

Pilot program at Notre Dame High School instills confidence

by Joseph Kenny, March 6, 2020
published in St. Louis Review

Sister Paulette Zimmerman, SSND, worked with Juliana Gervacio at Notre Dame High School in Lemay Feb. 24. The two are part of a pilot program that is an outgrowth of the English Tutoring Project assisting English language learners in grade schools. Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Sister Paulette Zimmerman, SSND, and Juliana Gervacio accomplished a lot in 45 minutes.


Sister Paulette encouraged Juliana, looking over some of her work and discussing her vocabulary, an upcoming ACT prep course, her schedule, organizational skills and more. Sister Paulette mentors the Notre Dame High School freshman in an outgrowth of the English Tutoring Project in nine Catholic grade schools.


The program began at Notre Dame in September, and it may be expanded to other high schools in the archdiocese that have students who are English language learners. Notre Dame has a number of students who are English language learners, including former English Tutoring Project students.


“The goal for the program from its inception is to make a one-on-one connection between a student and an adult academic mentor,” said Sister Kathleen Koenen, SSND. “The relationship hopefully will grow and develop over the four years of school.”


Students and volunteer mentors meet one or two times a month at the school.


Sister Kathleen explained that the visit is intended to “just converse, get to know each other and to assist in answering the question, ‘What do I need to succeed in school and what can I do to fill that need?’ The English Tutoring Project hope is to encourage the student in becoming their very best. Setting goals and reaching them academically and socially as well. One more adult caring for you is never a bad thing.”


Mentors are not full-time tutors, though they may review assignments since it may take years to understand and know academic language. “It fills what we observed as a need for high school students who were multilingual,” Sister Kathleen said.


For the initial year, four students are part of the program along with four mentors. Two other students started in the program but improved enough to no longer need the support. Cheri Dunn, academic support coordinator at Notre Dame, coordinates schedules.


Dunn said many of the students come from homes where English is not the primary language and who will be the first from their family to go to college. Mentors help them navigate that path. “The purpose is to help the girls understand their potential, encourage them, give them confidence, open their eyes to the possibilities they have in the future,” she said.


They help the girls develop and achieve goals. “We were excited to partner with them because it fits with Notre Dame’s mission to educate confident, compassionate Christian leaders,” Dunn said.


Sister Paulette also tutors at South City Catholic Academy with the English Tutoring Project. “This is fun, just to see the kids develop. It’s exciting to see the growing maturity and confidence,” she said.


Notre Dame provides a nurturing environment with much support, Sister Paulette said. “There’s always value to a student knowing there’s someone else believing in them. And there’s value in letting them know that they need to believe in themselves and can be successful.”


Juliana attended St. Frances Cabrini Academy in St. Louis where she was helped by the English Tutoring Project. Her family mostly speaks Spanish. “I appreciate the support,” she said. “I’m able to speak English anywhere without being shy about it.”


English Tutoring Project
The English Tutoring Project is dedicated to ensuring that Catholic education is an option for families whose children struggle academically due to lack of English language abilities. The St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries founded the program in 1998.


Grounded in Catholic tradition and social teachings, the English Tutoring Project provides on-site assistance to children from refugee and immigrant families to acquire English language skills in an environment where all children experience respect for themselves and their culture.