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February 19, 2015

Jennifer and Raquel's story

High schoolers gain confidence and career skills with Reading Partners

When Jennifer Trejo moved to San Francisco six years ago, she entered a world very different from her own. In Mexico, she grew up speaking the language of her family, friends, and peers; but in her new surroundings, she found herself on the outside, held back from social and cultural integration by her inability to read English. As a ten-year-old without English literacy skills, Jennifer faced a steep uphill battle in her first few years in America.

What Jennifer might not have realized at the time, though, was that she was not alone in this struggle–in fact, far from it. In San Francisco, thousands of children have to adjust to the dual language space, speaking Spanish at home and English at school. In fact, almost half the students at Tenderloin Community School are up against this challenge, classified as “English Language Learners.” At the start of the school year, Jennifer met a third grader named Raquel who faced many of the same challenges that she faced growing up.

After overcoming the challenge of reading, Jennifer started looking to her future, seeking opportunities to get involved with her community and give back during high school. She knew that by giving a child individual attention through tutoring, she could help put them on the right track, but she doubted her ability to make that tangible change for a struggling student.

But after first hearing about the Reading Partners program, Jennifer took a bold risk: she decided to dedicate herself to empowering a fellow English Language Learner with literacy skills.

Supported by her mother, Jennifer went to Tenderloin Community School to meet Raquel for the first time. Nervous about the experience, but excited about the possibility, she harnessed her energy into strength–telling Raquel that she was learning to tutor, just as Raquel was learning to read. She recognized in Raquel the challenges and confusions she faced only a few years ago, and could tailor her instruction and attention to this younger version of herself. And as Jennifer gained confidence in her abilities as a teacher, Raquel gained a friend, a mentor, and a host of critical reading skills.

So for both Jennifer and Raquel, the risk paid off. As Raquel enters fourth grade equipped to learn on par with her class, Jennifer can see just how powerful her own life story is–by learning from her past, she could change the course of Raquel’s future.

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