La Alianza Hispana's After School Program
Crystal Ramirez, a 10th grader, dreams about becoming an engineer. She's already designed her pathway to realizing this goal through her diligent studies at Boston's Latin Academy. She also knows she has a gift to share with her peers---not every young person has received the support and encouragement she has and she wants to give back. She wants to make a difference-the time is now for Crystal.
"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are."
Bernice Johnson Reagon, African American Composer Singer and Cultural Historian (1942- Present)
The above quote is posted on a wall in La Alianza Hispana's after school program located at the Lila G. Frederick Middle School in Dorchester. Forty young people, mostly considered to be Limited English Proficient, see this quote, along side other affirmations, in their daily routine of homework help with peer leaders.
"I spend every afternoon working with the students on their homework. It can be hard. I love it when they bring back their papers to show me they got a good grade!" Crystal went on to share "Sometimes they can't focus and that usually means there's something else going on. These kids are facing lots of challenges-peer pressure, violence, problems at home and even depression. Though I try to focus on academic support, I know that just listening to them makes a difference."
Crystal has witnessed first-hand many of the problems that often contribute to adolescent depression: high drop out rates, substance abuse, and gang violence resulting from racial and cultural clashes. "When there's any history of violence in a young person's life, it can compound feelings of helplessness and anger," she says.
La Alianza Hispana's after school program has provided Crystal, and nine other peer leaders with an experience which is building their workplace and leadership skills. It is giving them a chance to earn money for college, add value to the lives of youth in their community and hone their leadership skills.
"The peer leaders get a certain satisfaction from doing something good for others and they really do emerge as leaders within the school," says Crystal. "If there weren't peer leaders, I think a lot more kids would be going down the wrong path," she says.
In the words of others...
"Graduating from high school has a huge impact on earning a lifetime economic success. Even after taking into account age, marital status, region and ethnicity, high school dropouts earn on average 20% less than those who graduate."
The State of Working America 2006-07, Economic Policy Institute