Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Aaron Newton
May 29th, 2013
MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — Dr. Eduardo Gonzalez-Viana has been building a bridge from Western Oregon University to the Hispanic community of Polk County for 20 years.
When Gonzalez-Viana came to Western in 1993, he found there was no connection between his students and the Hispanic population in Monmouth or Independence.
That’s when Gonzalez-Viana started building.
“I asked them to dedicate at least two or three hours per week visiting with a Hispanic family,” Gonzalez-Viana, head of WOU’s modern languages department, said. “They would need to go to their homes in order to teach them English, DMV rules, citizenship and other skills for survival in the United States.”
The program, “Building a Bridge,” was born. Through its 20-year history, at least 3,000 families have benefited from the program, Gonzalez-Viana said.
Students have tutored families throughout the Willamette Valley, prisoners in the Oregon State Penitentiary and at “Colonia Amistad” in Independence. For the last two years Gonzalez-Viana has sent his students into Independence Elementary School.
Western students act as tutors and mentors for the children, helping with math and language classes or practicing sports.
The students are required to spend 14 hours in the school over the course of the term to fulfill requirements for Gonzalez-Viana’s class.
Some students spend an hour or two in the school each week, some knock out the requirement in a few days. Then there are students like Paola Ramirez Del Valle.
Ramirez Del Valle completed the 14-hour requirement in the first week and spent another 12 to 15 hours at the school — every week.
“I just kept coming because they need help,” Ramirez Del Valle said. “Since I’ve been here for five years in the country — English is not my first language — I know how hard it is, how you can feel frustrated because you can’t communicate with people.”
Ramirez Del Valle has worked with students of all grades at the school and in almost every class. She is looking to become a school psychologist and through working with the children of Independence decided the elementary level is her ideal age group.
Ramirez Del Valle’s story is nothing new to Gonzalez-Viana. Through the program’s history, many students became so enamored with tutoring and helping the community that they found their calling as teachers.
Independence Elementary Principal Steve Tillery sees the program’s benefits being reciprocal.
“I know from the college students, they talk about it all the time. It’s gratifying to know that you’re doing something to try and help somebody else,” Tillery said. “For our students, it comes about in them becoming better readers, becoming better at math concepts they’ve been working on. It also shows the kids that there’s another person that cares for them or thinks they’re special.”
Gonzalez-Viana’s students will be back at Independence Elementary next year with plans of expanding to other schools in the Central district.
His students have been more than just tutors for the children of Independence Elementary. They’ve been invited into the homes and churches of their pupils.
“They have become some kind of model for the kids. Most of the children at Independence are Hispanic and are usually very poor,” Gonzalez-Viana said. “So they didn’t think about going to college. Now, they feel that college is close.”