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A peer-to-peer tutoring program is helping new immigrants learn English.

A Montgomery Blair High School program called Blair Leaders Interning for Students Success, or BLISS, was created three years ago.

This year, it was offered for the first time during the summer. July 31 was the last day of class.

For six weeks, tutors helped students read books, learn grammar, expand vocabulary, present their first project in front of the class, and even act scenes from books they read in class.

Some students said their English improved significantly.

“In truth, there is a huge difference. Before I did not know many words in English [or how to] conjugate verbs [because] they are the ones that take longer [to learn],” said Jose Zuniga Iraheta, 18, who is from Honduras and has been living in Silver Spring for more than a year.

In the upcoming school year, Iraheta will be in 10th grade at Wheaton High School.

“I have learned a lot. ... My vocabulary is better than it was before,” he said.

The shy student gave an interview in Spanish; he was more comfortable speaking in his first language.

“The biggest role is that they [tutors] each have their own reading group, which is two and half hours in the morning. It’s a pretty major lesson,” said Karen Shilling, a Blair High School English teacher.

This summer, Julia Sint, 16, a Blair student was a tutor. She invited Ikram Abdoulwasse, 16, also a Blair student, and Herenla Tassu, 16, of Silver Spring, a Albert Einstein High School student, to join her.

Linh Nauxen, 17, of Silver Spring, joined the group, as well. Nauxen is Shilling’s former English for Speakers of Other Languages student.

For six weeks, five hours each weekday, the four students, who were teaching, met with Shilling before the 8:10 a.m. class to talk about the goal for the day.

Shilling’s class is an elective.

Sint said it was “really cool” to see how eager students were to learn.

“They are not required to take this class, but they come anyway. ... They had motivation to come to school and actually learn,” Sint said.

When reading books, Iraheta said, he still does not understand everything, but at least he understands something.

Despite the language barrier, he said, it felt good to be where he could ask whatever he wanted.

“I feel really good here. We need a lot of help and I feel like when I have a question, I’ll just ask. They understand me even if it’s in ‘Spanglish,’” Zuniga said.

The majority of Shilling’s summer students were Latinos. There also were students from Asian and African countries.

“It took about two-and-a-half days for the trust to build, because they were a little embarrassed,” Shilling said.

Dany Garcia Hernandez, 18, an Einstein High School student, moved from Guatemala a year ago and has been living in Wheaton.

“Here [at Blair], they really help,” Hernandez said.

He dreams of going to college, but knows he needs to understand English first.

Hernandez said one challenge in his school is the class size — 30 students share one teacher.

Also, most of his peers speak Spanish at Einstein High School. It makes it harder to learn English if students know they can communicate in their first language.

“We have Hispanic students here [at Blair], but the teacher helps a lot,” Hernandez said. The Blair staff are proud of their BLISS tutors.

Dirk Cauley, the summer school principal and assistant principal during the school year, said that since Blair has one of the most diverse populations, “why don’t we put these kids to work with other peers?”

Seeing tutors and students go through the BLISS program has been “such a rewarding experience,” he said.

“We are all the same, and we are all here to help each other,” Cauley said.



abarros@gazette.net