Project SPELL Graduation Shows UCLA’s Big Heart

UCLA employee Sonia Pichardo had plenty of support from her family during this year’s Project SPELL graduation celebration. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)

Student tutors and UCLA staff gathered June 3 for the Project SPELL Graduation and Tutor Appreciation Ceremony, celebrating a year of English as a second language (ESL) learning accomplishments.

Project SPELL is run by the UCLA Volunteer Center, helping connect student tutors and UCLA employees from Facilities Management and Housing and Hospitality Services Departments.

Program instruction develops knowledge in basic communication, literacy, workplace vocabulary and computer literacy.


(photos by Jonathan Van Dyke)

Since last summer, Project SPELL has instructed 91 learners and enlisted the help of 109 student volunteer tutors.

The special graduation and tutor appreciation ceremony gathered everyone together one last time before the end of the academic year.

Tutors and learners enjoyed catching up, including tutors Carolina Yamamoto and Tanu Srivastava.

“Today, we are here for two reasons: to celebrate the accomplishments of our participants, and show gratitude and appreciation to everyone who makes this program possible,” Project SPELL Program Director Stephanie Youngblood said. Learners hail from all over the world including Thailand, The Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Iran, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast.

“It has been exciting to see the confidence our learners have been building through developing new skills and knowledge in areas from basic communication and literacy skills, to workplace vocabulary and safety, to professional communication and computer literacy,” Youngblood added, before showing a special video introducing the program.

Every program needs a great group of volunteers, and Project SPELL has some of the best, Youngblood noted.

Nelson Pichardo from the office of Assemblymember Patty Lopez was on hand to make a special presentation. Lopez herself is a product of adult education and ESL classes. “She really sees in you a part of herself,” he told the crowd of learners, noting it takes courage “to take yourself off the safety rails and say, ‘I’m going to be vulnerable.'” Pichardo added his thanks to the tutors, noting that everyone in the program could learn from each other in a magnificent cross pollination of sharing experiences.

Several pairs of learners and tutors spoke about their experiences before the crowd, showing the true bonds that Project SPELL creates. “For me, it’s like a window has opened,” said learner Ediberta Garcia.

Learner Sarai Acua shared a story of being shamed by her 10th grade English teacher when reading aloud during class, something that set her back for years. Her first assignment for Project SPELL was to leave a voicemail. “That two minutes felt like forever,” she said during a speech that lasted much longer. “I’ve decided to get out of my comfort zone.”

“I want to emphasize how important it is to do what you have done today,” First District City Councilmember Gil Cedillo told the crowd. “You have taken determination of your own life. You are the heroes and the embodiment of American determination.” Afterwards, he chatted with crowd members, including student tutor Kathya Rodriguez.

For more information, visit the Project SPELL website.

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