CLEARWATER, Fla. — Clearwater High School students are making a big push to help their Spanish-speaking peers get ahead.
Imagine walking into a classroom where the kids are speaking a different language than you and the lessons are difficult to comprehend. That’s what 14-year-old Eleazhir Gonzalez, who recently moved from Mexico to Clearwater, is up against every day.
“It gives me anxiety and it makes me very nervous, and I can’t even speak my own language,” Gonzales said in Spanish.
Yet, he says that anxiety is lifted with the help of his peer tutor, Clearwater High School Senior Jessica Perez, who remembers a time she was up against a similar language barrier.
“It felt very uncomfortable, and it felt like I was left behind and I didn’t understand much and I needed extra help,” she remembered.
Just a few weeks ago, Clearwater High School launched the ELevation Mentor Program where students with a 3.0 GPA or higher, who also learned English as a second language, are now tutoring and translating for their peers.
Clearwater High School Senior Oswaldo Cruz says volunteering as a peer mentor gives him a sense of pride.
“It feels really good to help and to see them spark up and like 'hey, I’m not going to be lost today,'” he said with a smile.
It’s an important program at Clearwater High School where nearly half of the student body is Hispanic and many come from homes where Spanish is the only language.
Clearwater High School Principal Eric Krause hopes to expand the program and says he is proud of the students taking part in it.
“I’m just thankful that we have students on this campus willing to step up and look inside themselves to see how they can help others. That speaks volumes about our students here at Clearwater High School,” he elaborated.
The concept is catching on. A similar program was also launched this school year at Countryside High School. At that school, students in the Spanish Honor Society are tutoring students during lunchtime.
Gonzalez says he feels much more comfortable and thanks to his new friends, his schoolwork is a little less intimidating.
“It feels good to have someone of my own age helping me to understand the work,” he added.
The Pinellas County School District’s programs don’t just target Spanish-speaking students. Pinellas County Schools’ ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) represents 80 languages and 5,809 students are currently in the English Learner program. 2,682 additional students are in transition (they've completed the program but need additional monitoring). 2,305 students have completed the EL program.
PCS also offers free virtual tutoring opportunities for students who are English Learners.