By Collin Breaux | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @collin_breaux
In a small building at Stonefield Park in San Juan Capistrano, young students learn to read, write and speak English, along with getting help in mathematics and science.
The kids participate in afterschool programs through CREER Comunidad y Familia, a small local nonprofit that aims to help kids with learning and boost their self-confidence. The organization started in 2004, with summer and afterschool programs coming shortly thereafter. Afterschool programs are broken up in two groups of classes: kindergarten through second grade and third through sixth grade. “Creer” means “to believe” in Spanish.
“We came in, and we painted everything,” Executive Director Angeles Ceballos said of their current afterschool facilities. “We got bookcases. We turned this into a classroom.”
Ceballos’ passion is clear when she talks about the value CREER has. She grows animated when talking about how they help out kids and the various programs CREER runs.
One of the youngsters, 10-year-old Aaron Jimenez, has been coming for years. Aaron said CREER is fun and educational.
“I’ve learned to write nearly and how to read,” Aaron said.
Other students also love learning about folklore and said CREER has helped them. The kids who come to the afterschool programs have enthusiastic interactions with the volunteer instructors and are a tight-knit group who love to talk and laugh together. They gather around classroom tables for instruction and hands-on learning, eagerly and closely listening to instructors.
Ceballos said the kids that attend the program want to come. The volunteers work with various kids and said the students are appreciative. The majority of the students are second-language, with Spanish as their first language. In some cases, they may be incorrectly perceived as having a learning or behavioral disability because of communication barriers.
“In the majority of cases, the kids didn’t really have exposure to English until they went into school,” Ceballos said. “When they get thrown into the classrooms, you have the teacher working with 30 kids. Obviously the teacher will be overwhelmed. The kids get segregated and get further behind.”
Some students need educational support and have special needs, and in the view of Ceballos are severely neglected.
“They want to learn,” Ceballos said. “They’re eager to learn. They want to be able to do the tests, and they are so proud of their accomplishments.”
Asked how students get to participate, Ceballos said CREER works with school liaisons if it appears a student needs extra support. CREER also works by word-of-mouth, and forms have to be filled out before a student joins.
The classrooms are small and intimate, and kids get to learn arts and crafts, along with other skills. All the educational materials are provided to the kids, who get to take them home whether it’s notebooks, crayons or pencils.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of CREER. Dumais is a volunteer writing teacher with the program and oversees different projects for the students, such as when they make their own books. Kids learn to improve their literacy through an interactive curriculum, because they have to apply all of the principles of the alphabet, Dumais said.
“Every kid loves to make a book,” Dumais said. “We write books, and they do a little research. They have to read, and they read each other’s work. We do a writer’s workshop.”
Books made by the students have discussed their lives and alligators. It gives them a chance to tell their life story and reflect on things they like, and for the kids reaching each other’s books, also allows them a window into another world.
“Once they get the fluency, there’s no stopping them,” Dumais said.
Kathy Rowley, Homework Club supervisor, said she has found her niche with the club, where she assists students. Rowley has seen students improve through the program and rise up to the standards of their grade level.
“They’re nice kids. They’re compliant,” Rowley said. “It’s very rewarding in that sense.”
Andrea Romero has been a volunteer music teacher for several years and started working with CREER in her senior year of high school. Her time volunteering has been fun.
“Since then, I went to college and decided I wanted to be a music teacher, so almost every summer while I was on that journey, I had to come here and practice what I’ve been learning about pedagogy in college,” Romero said. “Developmentally, music education is really huge. There’s plenty of studies showing that incorporating music into education increases literacy and math skills.”
Rowley and Dumais, indeed, note that students tend to learn about other subjects such as literacy and math when they get into music education.
The three volunteers clearly love what they do and relish the opportunity to help the kids. High school students also come in to volunteer.
“We are successful because of the volunteers,” Ceballos said.
The curriculum also aims to mix in science. CREER receives grants from the City of San Juan Capistrano, for which they are grateful. They also welcome individual monetary donations and volunteer time. An upcoming benefit event on Sunday, March 1, at the San Juan Hills Golf Club is intended to bring in funds for CREER.
“That’s how we survive,” Ceballos said. “We need money. We would not be able to survive to do these programs without support. We are going to be very needy for the summer programs.”
Visit creeroc.org to donate and for more information.