Ryan Chiao, Photo Editor

For New Haven Public School high schoolers learning English, the pandemic has meant a lack of exposure to the language. To address this challenge, NHPS and Yale students have partnered to form a new online tutoring program that pairs Yale students with beginner or early intermediate level English language learners.

According to Pedro Mendia-Landa, English Language Learner programs director for NHPS, the district has identified 142 high school multilingual learners who are new arrivals to the U.S. and whose language proficiency is at a beginner or early intermediate level. To support these students, Rosalyn Diaz-Ortiz, NHPS Supervisor of English Learning, along with Gema Martinez Castillo ’21 and other Dwight Hall Public Schools Interns worked with the Yale Office of New Haven Affairs to set up an afterschool language enrichment program. The program plans to launch this upcoming week as a pilot program for a larger rollout in the fall semester. Students in the program will be able to practice their English language skills on Tuesdays to Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 2 p.m. Yale tutors and organizers alike expressed excitement over rolling out the new tutoring program.

“[The pandemic] has been really bad for multilingual learners, particularly newcomers to New Haven, who live in homes where English is not spoken,” said Claudia Merson, Yale director of public school partnerships, in an interview with the News. “I’m excited about this [program] going up even though it’s late, because New Haven is a city that attracts newcomers all the time.”

Merson added that the virtual ELL tutoring program is expected to continue in the fall semester and will be further developed during its pilot phase. She said that the program is part of a larger conversation over which tutoring resources will stay virtual or switch to in-person instruction in a post-pandemic world. She said she expects the ELL initiative and some other Yale-NHPS partnerships to stay virtual for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, Merson explained that virtual education programming has actually yielded some benefits for NHPS. She said that prospective Yale tutors do not face long commute times to work with students while tutoring online — lifting a time commitment burden from Yale partners. She also added that virtual programs allow Yale students to easily work with NHPS schools that are located far away from campus.

The ELL tutoring program is not the first NHPS-Yale partnership that has arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November, Dwight Hall and NHPS launched a homework helpline staffed by Yale students for NHPS students at select Title I schools. This helpline continues to be managed virtually over Google Meet.

Martinez Castillo noted that unlike prior programs, the new ELL tutoring program does not emphasize homework help — but instead focuses on gaining fluency in English.

“The program itself offers written and language development,” Martinez Castillo said in an interview with the News. “Tutors will be having conversations with students, practicing those language skills.”

As of Thursday afternoon, 18 Yale students have signed up to tutor 33 interested ELL students. Though Martinez Castillo said that the majority of the ELL students are native Spanish-speakers, she noted that some speak other languages, like Persian. Each tutor will have received mandatory training through both Yale and NHPS by the time they start to work with students.

Students interested in becoming a program tutor are encouraged to contact Martinez Castillo at gema.martinezcastillo@yale.edu.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu