Cedar Rapids Xavier students volunteer with ESL program

Fun in any language

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April 1, 2014 | 3:28 am

Editor’s note: This story is the fifth in a series highlighting how local business, organizations, churches and schools give back this holiday season. The series will run every Tuesday in the Community section through Dec. 25.

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Several people stand in the room, but no one makes a sound.

A ball goes through the air. Shannon Mulcahey catches it and then sends it flying across the room.

This continues for another minute before Maria Caballero fails to make a grab. Giggling — the first sound in the room since the game began — the 10-year-old takes a seat and the game continues until there’s a winner.

Silent ball is one of the most popular games the children play on Tuesday and Thursday nights at Hoover Elementary School while their parents attend English as a Second Language classes at Hoover through the Grant Wood AEA Parent-Educator Partnership Program.

Mulcahey, a junior at Xavier High School, is one of several Xavier students to volunteer, helping Lyn Chiaramonte, Hoover’s media secretary, entertain a classroom full of children.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Xavier kids,” Chiaramonte says. “They’re responsible, pleasant and very helpful. They connect with the kids.”

The extra hands, she adds, make it easier to divide the students into several age groups for various activities. On a given night, the classroom may host up to 30 kids ranging from age 4 to 11.

Several Xavier students have given their time to the program, which ran for 10 weeks, ending earlier this month. Community service, Bryan Banowetz says, is just something Xavier students do.

“There’s a school-wide volunteer club, but there’s also opportunities like this one that present themselves,” Banowetz, a senior, says.

Mulcahey first heard about this program from her Spanish teacher, Jaclyn Richmond. She was inspired to help because she was an ESL student when she was in elementary school.

“I was born in Ecuador and my mom is from Panama, so my first language is Spanish,” Mulcahey says. “I had to take ESL classes at Cleveland and Hiawatha elementary schools when I moved here 10 years ago.”

She attended the classes from first through third grade; roughly the same age as some of the students she interacts with at Hoover. Most know English. She comes back because it’s fun.

“It’s great to be able to step away from school and just focus on the kids,” Mulcahey says.

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