Loretta Hernandez beamed as she looked upon the children she has tutored over the past year, helping with homework assignments and tough classes.
As assistant coordinator for La Familia, a Nueva Maravilla Housing Development program that aims to reduce drug-related crime and increase residents' involvement in social programs, Hernandez began the tutoring program in September, 1992, by knocking on doors and getting parents as well as students involved. It grew out of La Familia's anti-truancy andanti-dropout programs, she said.
The 20 students from third grade to junior high school meet at the office after school from 2:30 to 4:30, Monday through Thursday. They received certificates for their accomplishments and were honored in a ceremony last week.
"Kids like to come (to the tutoring) even though they yell and scream. They like somebody to check up on them," Hernandez said. "It's been a process of getting to know their families that helps. It's improving their self-esteem."
Hernandez, who also grew up in the neighborhood, teaches parents how to follow through on their children's class assignments and to ask questions of teachers to make sure their children are on track to graduate.
She even taught one mother how to check on her daughter's absenteeism at the school attendance office. After the woman discovered a batch of forged notes written by the student, she has been accompanying her daughter to class, Hernandez said.
"I work extensively with the parents to teach them how to advocate for their children," Hernandez said. "Education is somewhere they can feel good about themselves because they're smart kids, they're creative kids--and their parents, they can do it too."
In some cases, diligence has paid off. Some students who had been identified as potential dropouts have been placed in gifted programs.
Luis Chavez, 12, had been identified at Griffith Junior High School as a potential dropout in the sixth grade. He started attending daily tutoring sessions and was recognized as the school's most improved student and given the Principal's Award at the end of the school year last spring.
"I want to graduate and go on to high school," Luis said. "I get mostly Cs and Bs and it's still a lot of work, but it's easier (with tutoring)."
Veronica Olmos, 16, has been accepted into the Bravo Medical Magnet School to prepare for a future as a doctor. She will start the program in January. The tutoring program helped her with chemistry homework, and she also started helping the younger students who attend.
Veronica said she became interested in medicine when she volunteered in the maternity ward at White Memorial Medical Center one summer. But she often encounters discouraging remarks from friends and strangers alike. "Some of the doctors there said: 'You don't have a chance.' And a lot of my friends say: 'Good luck,' but I know that I can do whatever I want," she said.
Hernandez counters those remarks by telling her the program will continue to support her through her medical studies.
"I tell her we'll help her, no matter what it is. Even if it's just an eraser that she needs, we'll get it," Hernandez said. "We're going to have a doctor come out of this community."