Article by Monica Carrillo-Casas, the Hispanic Life and Affairs Reporter of Times-News.
BELLEVUE — The Lee Pesky Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that helps kids with learning differences, expanded their literacy programming services this fall to English learners in Blaine County after a large surge of Hispanic residents into the area over the past couple of years.
Jahziel Hawley-Maldonado, training specialist and Lee Pesky literacy pods program director, told the Times-News they hold their tutoring sessions after school from Monday to Friday at Bellevue School Elementary. With four tutors on board for the program, each tutor has a designated spot in the library where they sit with a student and go through a detailed lesson plan.
“Every child is different — there’s the fluency, the decoding part, you know, reading accurately, the letter recognitions,” Hawley-Maldonado said. “The work is kind of the same for everybody, but again, you will see how everybody will be different depending on their needs.”
The Lee Pesky Learning Center started the literacy pods with eight students in the summer of 2020 to support them and their learning differences and became essential after students showed that they were struggling with the changes that came with education and the pandemic.
Fitting their mission, Hawley-Maldonado also said that not only have they expanded their program to English learners but will extend their services for the academic school year rather than just for the summer.
“These kids are coming straight from Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and they’re coming here with no previous English,” Hawley-Maldonado said. “They’re starting school in August and it’s really hard for them to get in the pace of the school. So we’re helping them to deal with those literacy skills, those foundational literacy skills to help them to be successful.”
The literacy pods program now has 32 in-person students — 26 of which are English learners. They also have 11 students online, all who are English learners.
For the 32 students who are learning in person, half of the students do tutoring sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays while the other half goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The online students do their sessions with one of two Boise-based tutors through a a similar schedule.
Hawley-Maldonado also told the Times-News they work closely with the Vallivue School District, where he goes to the school Mondays and Wednesdays for literacy pod sessions with students.
For each tutoring session, students have 20-30 minutes with their assigned tutor going through phonemic awareness (an activity that helps students identify individual sounds and make them into words), synthesis vocabulary (the ability to combine words into sentences), reading sight words, spelling, and more.
“I feel like this program has a lot of benefits, and even for me as an English learner,” Hawley-Maldonado said. “When I came here to Idaho, straight from Puerto Rico almost eight years ago, I didn’t have any of these stressors. I started with very limited English.”
Through working as a tutor and being the program coordinator of the literacy pods, he’s seen the improvements and the excitement kids get after feeling more comfortable with their English.
“It’s something that I’m very attached to because I am one of those kids,” Hawley-Maldonado said. “It is really good to see their growth and to see programs like this expanding more and more in Idaho as we continue receiving more Spanish speakers or other languages that are learning their English.”
With their limited capacity, Hawley-Maldonado, alongside his team, review applications to see which students need the most help and take it into consideration as they review students’ needs.
Once selected, they will do a pre-assessment to see where the students are in their literacy skills and get to know which lesson they will start them with.
They will tutor a student for as long as they need, although they do periodic assessments to see their growth. If they see enough improvement and believe that student can continue on their own, they will bring in another student that they think could benefit from the program.
If they don’t see significant improvement, they will keep working with that student until they see a notable difference in their academic performance.
As of right now, 22% of students in Blaine County are English learners, a slight decrease over the past few years.
Lee Pesky Learning Center was granted $69,850 from the Idaho Out-of-School Network to help support students in Blaine County and was able to expand their literacy pods model to the Vallivue School District through the Silver Family Foundation.