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March Madness

Project SPELL’s one-on-one language tutoring helps UCLA Housing and Hospitality employees improve their English

By Rohan Viswanathan

Feb. 22, 2011 2:54 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this article contained an error. SPELL stands for Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning.

As students pack into Rendezvous on Friday afternoon, two people meet and embrace in the left-hand corner of the eatery.

The man says jokingly how busy his week was, while the woman shares how excited she is to watch a Spanish movie with her sister over the weekend. After exchanging pleasantries and some laughter, they sit down and begin the day’s lesson.

The tutor is sixth-year philosophy student Juan Guillen, and his pupil is Rendezvous food server Raquel Haro. The two meet twice a week for an hour, during which Guillen helps Haro improve her English as part of Project SPELL, or Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning. The purpose of the program is to offer free English tutoring to employees on the Hill.

The program has expanded from 11 tutors in the fall to 17 tutors this quarter, but demand has grown so rapidly that there is now a waiting list for those who wish to participate, said Sarah Torres, creator of Project SPELL and director of special projects for the Volunteer Center.

Project SPELL partners up employees from UCLA Housing and Hospitality with volunteers, who may be UCLA undergraduates, graduates or employees, to spend an hour twice a week tutoring their learners.

The one-on-one tutoring model began this past fall, branching off from the idea for a classroom-style tutoring program for employees that was conceived but not implemented over the summer, Torres said.

One-on-one tutoring allows teachers to more adequately assess the strengths and weaknesses of each pupil, she noted.

“I had people at so many different skill levels with different needs and it would have been too hard to group them together,” she added.

Tutoring sessions are held during pupils’ working shifts, but they are still paid for the time they miss.

Haro said she has participated in a number of English-language programs in a classroom setting, but none of them offered the level of personal attention that Project SPELL does.

While Guillen also speaks Spanish, he said he tries to minimize speaking Spanish with Haro so she can learn English more quickly. Since no one in Haro’s family speaks to her in English, she said she enjoys practicing during sessions.

With SPELL, Haro is able to improve her English while Guillen gains the teaching experience he needs to be an educator, his goal after graduation.

The pair has formed a personal bond as well. Guillen said when he and Haro first started meeting this quarter, they would immediately begin lessons. Now, however, they take some time before every session to talk to one another about the week and any interesting weekend plans.

Haro agreed that she has gotten to know her tutor on a personal level, something she was not able to do in a classroom setting.

Torres expects that her program allows pupils the opportunity to better themselves and set their own goals.

She said she hopes to soon expand the program beyond the Hill and have others follow the model that Housing and Hospitality has established.

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Rohan Viswanathan
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