In Chinatown, a room bustles with student volunteers tutoring elderly people each week as part of Project Students Helping in Naturalization of Elders, or Project SHINE, a program where college students teach immigrants basic English and civic skills necessary to become a citizen. Although targeted at Chinese immigrants, anyone who’s willing to learn English is welcome to join on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
For students, Project SHINE isn’t just about helping immigrants and performing the required amount of community service or fulfilling service-learning requirements because it’s a part of the class’s curriculum. It’s about the relationship people develop with each other and the self-satisfaction of making a difference by helping those who need it.
“I found that it becomes important to a lot of people because people develop relationships with the learners [tutees] … they teach you as much as you teach them,” said Candice Sakuda, who is Chaminade’s Director of Service-Learning and a community partner of Project SHINE.
Although reluctant at first, many people involved in the program are first introduced to it through a class. Several professors on campus incorporate service-learning projects into their curriculum. It becomes a part of a student’s assignment where he or she learns from participating in service learning.
Chelcy Reyes, a SHINE coordinator who has been in the program for seven years, said she learned of SHINE from her intro to sociology class with Professor Bryan Man. Although hesitant at first, she grew to love the program and said whenever SHINE asks her to come back, she says “yes.”
“Really, the best part about SHINE, at the end of tutorial, the learners [tutees] always are just so thankful,” Reyes said with a smile. “Even as tired as you may be, from either a long day of work, long day of classes, it’s early Saturday morning, at the end of tutorial, they are so happy and so thankful and you feel that. It makes a difference.”
Although rewarding and self-satisfying, tutoring immigrants isn’t without its hardships.
Alanah Torre, a communication major who is also SHINE coordinator, said the language barrier was one of the difficulties she experienced when tutoring the learners.
“There are some learners [tutees] with no basic English skills at all and expect us to understand Chinese, which of course we don’t understand at all,” Torre said.
Often, online translators, English to Chinese dictionaries, pictures and hand motions are used to overcome the problem, but it’s still possible for a simple task like learning “What is your name?” to take an hour.
Another difficulty is the fact every immigrant’s level of English is different. It’s not uncommon to see a tutor teaching two to three people. Sakuda said tutors may find themselves not being able to progress into different subjects; however, they should not be discouraged.
The way tutors teach their students vary. Immigrants may bring in storybooks, or tutors may teach their learners phonetics, or use flashcards asking questions that will be on the naturalization test. If the student wants to go over the N-400, the application for naturalization, the tutor will teach what the words on the form mean.
Sakuda said the passing rate for the Project SHINE learners is 80 percent on the first try, and although the tutees passed their naturalization test, some still come back to learn more English.
Many students in the project are thankful for the time and effort volunteers put into tutoring them. According to Sakuda, “people win,” everyone gains out of SHINE. Immigrants learn English, tutors get their required assignment for their professor done, Chaminade has hours added to its 50k hours project and Project SHINE serves its purpose.
“Everybody has to give,” Sakuda said. “That’s why we really try to make it clear what everybody’s roles are because we need everybody to participate. I can’t do it by myself. They can’t do it by themselves. It’s all of us working together. It’s like our baby.”
See if you can answer these civic questions that can be seen on the naturalization test:
Who makes federal laws?
How many U.S. senators are there?
What are the two parts of congress?
What is the name of the current president?
If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
Who vetoes bills?
Who signs bills to become laws?
What is the highest court in the United States?
Who is the Governor of your state now?
What is the political party of the President now?