This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of the Leon Springs Community News
Story by Pamela Price
Armida Guevara seized the opportunity to make a difference in her community with a telephone call.
“It began over three years ago with me wanting to volunteer at a local school. I called the volunteer coordinator at Leon Springs Elementary, and she invited me in for an interview,” said Guevara. “After we talked, there was a background security check and a briefing on what the school needed from me.”
Guevara, referred to simply as “Abuelita” by close friends and family, knew from the outset that she wanted to assisted children in particular need of literacy help.
“I wanted to reach out to those kids who have fallen behind in reading, for whatever reason,” said Guevara, who eventually became a part of San Antonio’s OASIS program.
Targeting community members aged 50 and older, OASIS is a national education network “dedicated to enriching the lives of adults age 50 and older through lifelong learning and service…. OASIS brings people together to learn, lead and contribute in their communities.”
“They’ve been really helpful to me, as a volunteer,” said Guevara of OASIS San Antonio’s Intergenerational Tutoring Program, which collaborates with Leon Springs Elementary and other Northside ISD schools. “At the start of the year, they hand out useful freebies, school supplies. At the monthly meetings we tutors receive training on working topics like special education and helping children with disabilities.”
Guevara’s fellow volunteers are a diverse group. “At one meeting, they honored a lady volunteer who was 91 years old! She’s still going strong, using a walker. We see a fair number of men, too.”
Although many tutors are former educators, Guevara is quick to point out that one doesn’t have to have professional training in order to help school kids.
“I see a lot of young moms work as tutors. And then the school needs help with crafts, working on the grounds, etcetera. My best advice is to call your neighborhood school and ask them how you can help.”
In the case of Guevara, however, her work as a bilingual educator for many years has proved especially useful of late.
“This year, the local schools have seen a rise in the need of bilingual teachers. That’s because many families in Mexico, because of the troubles in that country, have relocated to the area. Most of the families have fathers who are professionals, people like journalists and lawyers, who must keep working. They purchase houses and move their families here, then go back and forth between the two countries. Yet the kids don’t know any English. They’ve never spoken a word of it. And so the schools have a real need for bilingual volunteers.”
Coincidentally, Guevara worked for many years in Los Angeles with international families, educating parents on how they can help children learn to speak and read English at home. When tutoring at Leon Springs Elementary, Guevara draws upon her experience as a parent and grandparent, too, using poetry, games, journals and other tools to bring her pupils along. And while she expresses gratitude for the support given tutors by the Leon Springs Elementary School staff, it’s clear that the work itself is her greatest reward.
“I’ve always loved being in the schools,” said Guevara. “And the truth is that we tutors get as much as, if not more than, the kids get out of it. These kids just love you, if you’re a tutor. They want to see you at holidays. Sometimes they’ll invite you to their homes for dinner. You become such an important part of their lives. You get to watch them grow and flourish with all that precious individual attention. I just think that children need an older adult, a grandparent figure to give them the care they deserve, especially when parents have such little spare time these days…. Imagine if every child had a grandparent to do that for them, to give them just an hour or two each week of undivided attention? We might change the world.”