A new opportunity available at Northwestern to both students and staff is PIECE, Partners in Education, Community outreach and Embracing diversity. This program helps English language learners partner with an individual in the community who is dedicated to teaching them English.
NW’s Hispanic liaison Martha Draayer co-founded PIECE in 2013 as an outreach measure at her church. Draayer’s role is to recruit and train volunteers and inform the community about this opportunity. The program has been successful in Sioux Center, but it is very new to the Orange City area, however Draayer has already heard success stories.
“It’s great to see so many students stepping outside of their comfort zone to engage in practical cross-cultural experiences,” Draayer said. “I have also seen success in volunteers learning more about our immigrant neighbors and building authentic relationships with Latinos in our community.”
Tutors not only help with the tutee’s language skills, but confidence, as well.
“I have also seen participants become more aware of the resources at their disposal and utilize the resources they have access to, such as the library, going to events they would otherwise feel intimidated attending on their own or going into different restaurants where they normally would not feel welcome,” Draayer said. “Having their tutor with them gives them the confidence to engage in new experiences.”
For accounting and business education major Emily Bosch, becoming a PIECE tutor was a way to complete her diversity hours needed in the education department. With the help of a curriculum book, Bosch and another tutor met with their learner twice a week, reviewing the session before diving into new material.
“The language barrier is a real thing and a challenge to overcome!” Bosch said. “We worked a lot on vocabulary, numbers, the alphabet, address, months, days of the week and have just started scratching at the pronouns.”
After her first visit, Bosch was nervous. She felt she had a grasp on Spanish until she was paired with a woman who did not know any English. However, once the two formed a bond, the nerves went away. Through the help of Google translate, they are overcoming the language barrier.
For Steven Van Meeteren, a biology health professions major, he enjoys Spanish and knows the language barrier for the Latinx population is huge, so he wanted to help out.
“I learn about my student’s life: his family, his job, his past,” Van Meeteran said. “I am also always reminded just how hard it is to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you.”
Like Bosch, Van Meeteren was nervous at first. However, after the first meeting was out of the way, a comfortability and trust was formed between the two.
“We start out by going through the workbook, and then, as words come up in our conversation, I’ll write them down and explain them,” Van Meeteren said about the tutoring session.
Even staff members have realized the potential this opportunity provides. Lynn Mouw, a maintenance worker on campus, is also a tutor for the program. Mouw is a former English teacher, so she felt confident she could help someone learn the language.
“I bring treats and coffee, and we dive into the curriculum that Martha was able to provide for us,” Mouw said. “Before we got the curriculum, I had her read some baby books in English and gave them to her after she read them since she has a 6-month-old.”
For Mouw, she is also able to learn during these sessions.
“You learn how to interact and care for another person despite communication handicaps,” Mouw said. “You can learn about another culture and different ways of doing things, or just continued practice of respecting differences and being humble in developing and strengthening your own personal growth and character.”