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UGA program helping Latino kids celebrate MLK Day

By Cat Holmes
University of Georgia

Hot chocolate, a pinata full of candy and children's videos in Spanish about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. will highlight the MLK celebration Jan. 19 at Pinewood Estates North, a trailer park north of Athens.

The celebration is funded by a $5,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The grant pays for a community meal, catered by women who live in the largely Hispanic community, and MLK books and videos in Spanish for both children and adults.

Most of the money will also pay for supplies to support an ongoing service project. The project enables University of Georgia students to tutor children after school in Pinewood Estates North.

"We're looking forward to a great celebration of Dr. King's life this year, one that will reflect his commitment to service and bring his teachings to life," said David Knauft, associate dean of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Our celebration at the Oasis Catolico highlights both African- American and Hispanic cultures," Knauft said. "We hope it encourages even more UGA students to tutor."

Oasis Catolico is a convent established to minister to the community needs in Pinewood Estates by three sisters in the order of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sister Margarita Martin, one of the three who started the convent, contacted Knauft and Glenn Ames of the UGA Office of International Public Service and Outreach more than a year ago.

She saw that a number of Pinewood Estates children were struggling with a double work load: learning a new language and advancing in their schoolwork.

"Many of the kids may have been very advanced in their schoolwork in Mexico. But because of the language barrier, they can't communicate that," said Anna Scott, a UGA graduate student who administers the program. "They get frustrated and fall behind."

Another barrier is a very different cultural attitude toward teachers, Scott said.

"In their culture, teachers are revered. To challenge a teacher or question them in any way is unheard of," Scott said. "Here, if parents don't talk to the teachers regularly, they're considered inattentive."

Sister Margarita knew the children needed help. She thought it only natural to turn to a nearby university to get it.

Knauft and Ames put together the program. UGA students began after-school tutoring. And the program was successful from the beginning, both for the children and the college students.

"The UGA students really saw what a difference a few hours of attention could make for many of the children," Scott said. "We had many children go from F's and D's to A's and B's. We even had one kid who moved up a grade."

For the UGA students, the experience is both rewarding and eye- opening. "A lot of them never realized the kinds of barriers minority children face," Scott said.

The program began a year ago with roughly a dozen UGA students participating. Now more than 50 are mentoring elementary school children each week. About a dozen now are doing it for course credit.

Cat Holmes is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

(Cat Holmes was a science writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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