Student Spotlight: Tutoring Adelante Youth with Alejandro Bernal
Members of the student organization Puentes GW work to integrate the university with community organizations, schools, and residents through a shared commitment to the improvement of access to education and the right to a dignified quality of life, without discrimination, marginalization, or shame. It embraces a diverse, multilingual and multicultural community and promotes the benefits and gifts of bilingualism in the community. Below is an interview with former tutor, site coordinator, and co-president of Puentes GW, Alejandro Bernal, about his experiences.
Can you tell me about Puentes GW and how it interacts with the Avance Center and Adelante?
Puentes, which means “bridges” in Spanish, is an organization that consists of bilingual GW students that have both an interest in community service and the Spanish language. Our goal is to build lasting bonds with the D.C. community by partnering with Spanish education partners in the area. Puentes GW provides tutoring and mentoring to the Avance Center’s Adelante youth. GW students volunteer to be tutors every Saturday, and go to the Maryland Multi-Cultural Youth Center (MMYC) to interact with Adelante youth.
What was your role in Puentes GW?
I started off as a volunteer at our new tutoring site at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center to tutor high school students in a variety of subjects for the Adelante Program. Eventually I became the coordinator of the site in order to help it improve and grow. In my role as a site coordinator I coordinated with MMYC, the Avance Center, and volunteers to create the schedule and manage logistics. During the tutoring sessions I was responsible for making sure volunteers came in on time, and checked in on everyone to see if they needed supplies or help with their tutoring. I was a coordinator for three years, and also became a board member for the organization, too. In my executive position I managed events coordination and recruited students.
What challenges did you face while tutoring?
Both of my parents were teachers so I had a fairly good grasp of how hard a job it is. But then I started tutoring with Puentes GW and I realized just how hard it is—it can be tough! I was an engineering major, so I focused on tutoring math specifically. This was flexible, depending on the amount of tutors we had that day and what the students needed help with. But I mainly focused on math. This was a challenge because I not only had to teach math, but in Spanish! I had to use all the math terminology in Spanish as well as explain these abstract math concepts.
What was your favorite part of tutoring?
My favorite part of tutoring was seeing students succeed. I like seeing a student get excited about a subject that is difficult. Tutoring also made me want to be an engineer. It was fulfilling to show students who struggle in school that there is some beauty in the sciences, like math. I also liked showing youth that college is something they can strive for. I enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm for learning and seeing it grow in a student.
What have you gained from this experience?
I wish I had found Puentes in its first year. I started as a sophomore, which was its second year. But I still was able to see it grow and I am thankful to have been a part of it. I learned how to organize people who were scattered around with different majors and different schedules. I gained skills in recruiting people to join the organization and organizing events.
I initially arrived at GW wanting to do International Affairs. I have always considered myself a citizen of two worlds, one as an American born in New Jersey, and the other as a Colombian when I visit the families of my parents nearly every summer as far back as I can remember. For this reason, I searched for an organization where I could share my passion for learning and use my familiarity with Latin American culture to better the lives of those less fortunate than I. I found it in Puentes GW. I formed very strong relationships with members of the organization who shared these same aspirations. We all had different majors and life goals, but we all got together at Puentes. We got to spread the dream of education among youth.
Tutoring youth improved my Spanish speaking skills as well. I especially increased my Spanish vocabulary of math concepts and terms. During tutoring I also had to improvise a lot. Sometimes students would not come with any homework, but instead wanted to learn English. To adapt to this need, I created a curriculum of English lessons. These lessons included simple games involving English vocabulary and moved on to more advanced concepts.
What has the experience with Puentes GW taught you?
I learned how to work well with others. In school you learn how to work with teams, groups, lab partners, but working in a student organization is complex. I learned how to form a consensus among the group members in order to make decisions. I learned the importance of communication to make sure the organization ran efficiently.
Tutoring has shown me how important it is to keep my passion for learning alive to achieve my goals. I’ve been able to show youth that education is the key to improve their futures and to better our world through enriching the minds of our fellow man/woman.
Alejandro Bernal served as a tutor, site coordinator, and executive team member at the Puentes GW student organization. He was able to see the organization grow in a short time and is excited for how much potential it still has. Mr. Bernal has transferred from GW to continue his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at NJIT back home in New Jersey.