Welcome Dayton spins off to high school

Pairing connects American-born and English as a second language students.

A new educational twist has been added to the Welcome Dayton initiative through a pilot program started this year at Belmont High School.

A joint venture administered by Sinclair Community College is developing “cultural collaborators,” where American-born and English as a second language students are paired through Welcome Belmont.

“The beauty of the city’s Welcome Dayton initiative is that it grew from grassroots to make official the city’s welcome to immigrants,” said Teresa Troyer, ESL program coordinator for Dayton Public Schools. “I’ve seen a real synergy of work among organizations rather than different groups trying to protect their own territory … to increase connections among existing programs.

“From these inspired connections, I was linked to the Mentoring Collaborative, which was relocating to the Sinclair campus, to Dr. Tony Cruz, and to Parity, Inc. to brainstorm mentoring ideas. I hoped for a connection among students, peer-to-peer,” Troyer said.

Troyer’s hope became reality with the Welcome Belmont program, initiated this past summer, just as she began a year-long leave in Colombia.

Karl Penn, a Sinclair employee working at Belmont as school coordinator of Sinclair’s Educational Talent Search, became the point person for Welcome Belmont.

“The Welcome Belmont Peer Program is an arm of Educational Talent Search designed for high school students,” said Penn, who lives in downtown Dayton. “This summer, during our Summer Bridge Program, we identified 10 American students and paired them with 10 ESL students to help them through language and social barriers.

“It’s not mentoring, but a cross-cultural collaboration. We do team-making exercises, study tables after school, in-school activities, and one event each month. We just got back from a trip to Athletes in Action and had an incredible time experiencing teamwork and problem solving exercises. The group is so excited and energized,” Penn said.

Dr. Tony Cruz, vice-president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Sinclair, came up with the cross-cultural idea with Welcome Dayton volunteers, and designed the program for high school students.

“I worked with Teresa and the education subcommittee of Welcome Dayton on ideas to impact students in high school, especially immigrants,” said Cruz, a Welcome Dayton volunteer himself.

He said, “Our goal was to help immigrants with challenges and barriers they face, and also to help them become part of the larger school environment and to help native-born students learn more about the immigrants’ cultures. American students can learn a lot from the immigrant students.

“We came up with ‘cultural collaborators,’ so the students could get to know one another,” said Cruz, who lives in Mason. “We hope they create bonds and learn from each other. It’s a way to create cultural competencies organically, not from a forced curriculum,” Cruz said.

Cruz said he is hoping for increased long-term results.

“Karl told me that the day after the Athletes in Action team-building outing, the paired kids were sitting together at lunch — no one told them to, they wanted to — and that’s what we wanted to have happen,” he said.

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Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.

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