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Helping Young Eagles Soar

In the Alexandria Area, a Church's Tutoring Program Builds Relationships While Giving Students a Hand With Homework

By Margaret Roth
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page VA18

The words are no problem for Kathya Bejarano. It's the word problems.

For Kathya's mother, Maria Luisa Jurado, it's the words. Jurado, her husband, Miguel Bejarano, and Kathya moved to the United States from Bolivia just two years ago, and Kathya knows much more English than her parents.

Cynthia Fedder, left, helps 10-year-old Marvin Melendez with his math at the Eagle's Wings tutoring program at Calvary Presbyterian Church. (Larry Morris - The Washington Post)

So every Wednesday evening, Kathya is tutored by Jane Schaub, who, as it happens, also went to her school, Mount Eagle Elementary, off Route 1 in the Alexandria area. And Jurado goes to classes in English as a Second Language at Bryant Adult Alternative High School, farther south off Route 1, so she can be more conversant and get a better job than helping someone clean houses.

Kathya, 11, and Schaub, 41, take part in the Eagle's Wings tutoring program at Calvary Presbyterian Church next door to the school. In the program's 15 years, Fairfax has evolved into a county of more than 1 million whose school-age children speak more than 100 languages.

At Mount Eagle, its 321 students come from 40 countries and speak 28 languages. The number of students in the school's English as a Second Language program has more than doubled over the past 10 years, to 134 students. Mount Eagle was one of the first schools chosen for the county's Project Excel program, launched in 1999, which provides extra money to schools with high percentages of students who are needy, disadvantaged or have limited command of English.

To help them improve their language skills in all subjects, Eagle's Wings pairs Mount Eagle students with volunteer tutors. These one-on-one relationships often last for years and sometimes go well beyond the hour-long, free Wednesday tutoring sessions that run from 7 to 8 p.m. or from 7:30 to 8:30. Most of the Eagle's Wings students, in second through sixth grades, are Hispanic; a half-dozen or so are black.

The school draws from an area stretching from the Beltway south along Route 1 to just south of Memorial Street, and from roughly The Parkway to the west to just east of Fort Hunt Road. The neighborhoods are modest, several of them defined by large apartment complexes or duplexes that date to the 1950s.

Everyone involved seems to agree that the pairing is perhaps the greatest benefit the Eagle's Wings program offers the students and tutors.

"Amazing what a one-on-one situation does," said Cynthia Fedder, working with fifth-grader Marvin Melendez.

Melendez, writing last month about what he did for Thanksgiving, grinned as he worked, so Fedder asked him to read aloud. Marvin said he and his family had visited cousins, near Wal-Mart but "more deeper in" off Route 1. The cousins included a year-old baby, whom Marvin pronounced "boring."

"Can you spell 'boring'?" Fedder prompted.

"B-o-r-i-n-g," replied Marvin, who could hardly keep his pencil straight for laughing.

Fedder looked at his work approvingly, then teased: "I know next week, those [times] tables are going to be so perfect."

When the Eagle's Wings program began in 1989, the students needed more help organizing their work than understanding it, said Claride Mayo, who shares the job of program coordinator with fellow Calvary parishioner Dot Heil.

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