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Retirees Help Students Break Language Barriers

As schools around the state struggle with budget cuts, hundreds of students at one of our local schools are struggling with English.

More than 90 percent of the students in Mecca speak English as a second language. This can make learning and passing tests difficult, but some local retirees are breaking down the language barriers, making learning easier.

“We are retired and when you have a lot of time, the best thing you can do with it is give it back,” says volunteer Harry Koustik.

For the past five years, Monday through Friday, about 30 volunteers ride a bus from Palm Desert to Mecca Elementary School. They spend the morning encouraging and helping students with reading. This is part of the Read With Me program.

For almost all of the students at Mecca Elementary, school is the only place they hear and speak English. At home, it is strictly Spanish. When the volunteers come in, it gives the students a chance to practice English. Their skills are improving and so are their test scores.

“I’m getting good grades, better grades,” says Karen Contrevers, third grade student at Mecca Elementary.

“The childrens’ reading scores have increased 149 points in the past two years,” says Roberta Klein, founder of Read With Me.

As the students improve their second language, it’s passed on to their Spanish-speaking family members.

“It impacts our entire community,” says Manuela Silvestere, Mecca Elementary School principal.

“I teach my parents English when I get home from school,” says Contrevers.

While the volunteers shape the young mind, they say, it’s actually the students who are teaching the bigger life lessons.

“I’ve developed some very good friendships,” says Koustik.

“I think I get more out of it than the kids,” says volunteer Roberta Klein.

KESQ News Team

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