Section: Features

¡Hola! Tutoring fosters cross-cultural connections

After three years of working with Hispanic students in the Knox County area as mentors and tutors, on Feb. 2, Kenyon’s ¡Hola! program officially became a departmental organization under the Office of Community Partnerships. Involvement in ¡Hola! Tutoring continues to serve as an opportunity for connection between the College and the wider Knox County Latino community. 

Kenyon’s involvement with ¡Hola! started in the fall of 2021, when Silvia Carias-Centeno ’25 began researching Mount Vernon’s Latino population for her course AMST 493: IS: Diversity in the Heartland taught by Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield. “Being Latina from a city, I really wondered how the experience was for Latinos in rural Ohio,” Carias-Centeno said in an interview with the Collegian. Sheffield advised Carias-Centeno to reach out to churches in the surrounding area, as churches are a crucial part of small-town American culture. Carias-Centeno got in touch with two churches that made it explicitly clear that they were accepting of immigrants. The pastor of one of these churches replied eagerly and invited her to visit.

When Carias-Centeno walked into the church for the first time, she was amazed by the vibrancy and culture she witnessed: “I walk in, I see a room full of Hispanics like talking, blasting music, working on homework and stuff like that… Since coming to Kenyon, besides in ¡Adelante! meetings, I had never seen a room of so many Latinos in one space… it was really crazy and really cool.” The pastor told Carias-Centeno about ¡Hola!, which was started in Mount Vernon by a now-retired Spanish department head at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Barbara Martinez. A lot of the Hispanic families who participated in ¡Hola! were recent immigrants who had experienced significant hardship in order to get to Knox County. Despite being small in number, Carias-Centeno emphasized that the Hispanic community in Mount Vernon is a growing one, and is most likely undercounted. That same day, Carias-Centeno was able to meet the students and begin forming relationships with them. She instantly knew that she wanted to get more students at Kenyon involved. Carias-Centeno emphasized the collaborative nature of ¡Hola!, writing to the Collegian that “it couldn’t have happened without the other founding tutors,” referring to fellow founders Juan Martinez Leon Diaz ’23 and Leah Kessler ’24. 

Three years later, Kenyon’s ¡Hola! program has made immense progress in establishing itself in the school community. Tutoring currently takes place at the Wright Center, where more than 10 tutors, most of whom are fluent in Spanish, gather every Wednesday and Saturday for one-on-one tutoring sessions with Latino children and adult learners from Mount Vernon. ¡Hola! tutors work to empower students, many of whom struggle due to language barriers. Another founder of the program, Kessler shared that “rather than just giving [students] the answers, [tutors] focus on helping them build the skills they need to be able to find the answers on their own—whether it’s for a book report or an algebra class, our goal is empowerment and enrichment far more so than a letter grade increase.” Aside from helping students academically, ¡Hola! aims to connect students with their Hispanic culture, so they feel pride in their identity. In the past, ¡Hola! took students on a field trip to the Woodward Opera House in Mount Vernon to watch a Mexican folk group perform. 

Kessler explained that the core of this educational program is the friendships between the tutors and their students: “After a long day or week of Kenyon courses, we sometimes come into a tutoring session tired, frustrated, hungry, whatever it might be — but it is all worth it when a student walks into the room and sees you, and their face immediately lights up.”

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