In a converted garage in Yonkers, 10-year old Jesus happily shouts “Good afterNOON!” to his afterschool classmates as he walks in the door. Carrying his soccer shoes and a soccer ball, his eyes light up when he spots the tutor who will help him finish his homework before he goes outside to play with his friends.
An athletic, energetic eight-year old, Jesus likes to read Lego Ninjago books and build elaborate chutes to roll marbles. But his real passion is soccer. “I want to be a professional soccer player,” he says, “for the USA.” He practices with his father at home in Yonkers, where the family immigrated from Puebla, Mexico. Jesus’ love of the game transcends loyalty to any one team, however. The day of one important international game, he painted his face with the Columbian flag on one side and the Chilean flag on the other.
Last year Jesus had to give up afternoon soccer as he labored to complete his second grade homework assignments. As an English Language Learner, he had been given the task of copying up to 180 English words each day, on top of his regular homework. Volunteers at the afterschool program run by San Andres Church in Yonkers struggled to help him. Some days he prostrated his body on top of the table in frustration, and many afternoons the program ended before he could finish. “I didn’t have a chance to play,” he said.
Jesus’ mother was concerned about more than soccer. She feared he would be given an IEP and tracked into special education, like his four older brothers. Program Director Myriam Choate suggested that she and his mother pay a visit to his school. They learned Jesus had misunderstood the assignment. He only had to write the words he didn’t know – which reduced the assignment by 80%! None of his teachers had corrected the misunderstanding. “He had become invisible to them,” Myriam said.
Jesus’ mother says things have become much easier in the past year. He completes his homework easily, and even has time to read aloud with his volunteer. San Andres afterschool “is the best place,” she said. “He needed help and is now advancing.” Jesus now has a special job in the afterschool program – timekeeper. He reads the clock and reminds Myriam when it’s time to go outside to play.