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A Summer of Generosity

by: Joan Kite   (January 2005)

UC Riverside Extension English instructor Sherry MacKay was performing a single act of kindness when, unexpectedly, she found herself committing to a summer of generosity.

MacKay was finishing up a spring quarter class at Mead Valley Elementary School in Perris, where she teaches in a state-funded program administered by the Val Verde Unified School District and UC Riverside Extension. The program provides free English classes to family members of children who attend elementary schools in the Val Verde Unified School District.

“The program is designed to help parents help their children,” said MacKay.

For this quarter, the students (mostly Spanish speakers) learned the English words for clothing. To apply their new knowledge, MacKay orchestrated an in-class garage sale. Students brought in items from home. MacKay had friends donate items. MacKay and her student volunteers served as salespeople and the students came to class that day using words in their expanding English vocabulary to shop for clothing at rock-bottom prices.

“We sold stuff for next to nothing,” MacKay said. “We used the money we raised for the last day party.”

The sale was finished. Class was ending. Summer was coming and there were no free English classes scheduled for the family members of children in Mead Valley.

“They were so disappointed when they knew they weren’t going to be able to have English classes all summer,” MacKay said.

Without being in the classroom, MacKay’s students would lose the most effective way to practice their English. The students loved MacKay’s classes. MacKay loved teaching her adult learners because they were so eager to learn and knew that expanding their English vocabulary expanded their lives.

All of these thoughts were whirling through MacKay’s mind when she stopped at the Mead Valley Community Center to donate the leftover items from the classroom garage sale.

There, at the community center, MacKay found an answer. Mead Valley Community Center officials offered MacKay a free classroom close enough for her students to attend.

The difference was that MacKay didn’t get paid. She volunteered her time and knowledge — all summer, every Monday from 3 to 5 p.m.

MacKay enlisted other volunteers like instructor Erika Harrell; Ryoko Izuchi, a recent graduate of Extension’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate program; and current Extension TESOL students Ikuko Akagi, Chiaki Ogino and Yitka Kolmanova. With their help, she was able to divide her students into groups according to their abilities and to provide them with more comprehensive instruction.

MacKay’s husband, UC Riverside computer science professor Michalis Faloutsos, and two of his undergraduate students, Shashwati Kassetty and Konrad Ferguson, volunteered to provide free classes in basic computer skills.

“My students are an inspiration to me,” MacKay said. “It’s such a pleasure working with them. I love this program.”

The Val Verde program asks that the students give back as well, said Extension English instructor John Kearley.

“We ask them to sign a promissory note that whatever they learn here, they will teach to someone else in their community,” said Kearley, who teaches at three elementary schools in Perris.

This tale of community engagement by Extension teachers is an example of how UC Riverside Extension serves as an agent of public service, said Jack Azzaretto, dean of UC Riverside Extension.

“The Val Verde program has been a huge success,” said Azzaretto. “Sherry’s summer enterprise is a wonderful example of how Extension and many of those who work here generously seek to fulfill the needs of communities that we serve. Dedicated professionals go beyond their formal job responsibilities and embrace service as a value.”

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