REACH stands for Raising Education Attainment Challenge. The REACH Program at the Cornell Public Service Center is a student initiative consisting of Team Leaders, America Reads/Counts Challenge tutors (ARCC), and volunteer tutors committed to supporting community organizations and schools serving children’s academic and social needs.

The purpose of the program is to recruit and mobilize a diverse, talented group of tutors so that they may have the necessary resources, peer support, and leadership to assist in the enhancement of academic achievement of children and youth in grades pre-K-12th.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How it all started... - Clara Lee (SIFE)

Being in my third year of REACH, one thing I’ve learned from the program is the importance of continuity. Not just the continuity of showing up every week at your site, or even every month. It’s the continuity of being there for the kids as they grow from year to year and maintaining that connection with them.

Before I became the team leader at SIFE this semester, I worked at West Village Community Center for five semesters, since my fall semester of freshman year. It was during my first semester at West Village when I met the children of a group of Karen refugees in the West Village after-school program. The Karen people are an ethnic group from Burma and Thailand who are currently experiencing political instability and persecution by Burmese authorities. This extended family previously lived in refugee camps in the Burma-Thailand border before immigrating to Ithaca. I couldn’t even imagine the conditions that they must have lived in, coming from a fairly comfortable life in Southern California and Cornell.

The younger children spoke almost no English, which certainly posed many communication problems (how do you tell a non-English speaking child to throw his/her trash away, or to wash their hands after snack?) I remember their surprise and fascination the first time they saw running water in our sink. Yet, they were just like any other children, filled with boundless energy (and mischief) and always with a smile on their face. As my semesters in West Village passed by, I watched them learn and grow in leaps and bounds.

Last semester, I was told that these children would be attending an after-school program called SIFE at Belle Sherman Elementary (where many of them attended), a program specially tailored for their social and academic needs. As a new REACH site, it would need a team leader. Well, would I be interested?

Yes. And so, here I am.

~ Clara

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