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Los Promotores Tutoring Program Teaches Academics and Our Shared Humanity

The elementary school children and their mothers in the Los Promotores tutoring program balance traditions. As immigrants from Latin America, they are learning the ways of their new country. As families with roots in their native homes, they strive to keep old traditions alive.

The innovative after school program adds even more color to their cultural palate — introducing them to traditions from across the globe. Last week, Los Promotores students and their Wagner College teachers took a break from their weekly schedule of literacy, mathematics and parent education for a performance by Red Storm Drum & Dance Troupe.

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Nearly 50 children and their caretakers sat in a circle using their palms to make thick sounds on a skin drum; they held hands in a group dance and heard the ethereal song of a wooden flute during a retelling of a sacred myth.

The performance showed that Native Americans are more than a phenomenon of the distant past, introduced in schools around this time of year at Thanksgiving. Native Americans continue to live in this country. They are nations within our nation, sharing indigenous roots with the Mexican and Central American immigrants in the program, Red Storm troupe members said.

“Performing means a lot to us because it raises awareness of Native American culture, which is often overlooked,” said Jerry Greyhawk, dressed in traditional costume in the event space at St. Phillip’s Baptist Church in Port Richmond. “We are still in existence,” added Robert Baldeagle, who is part Mayan, and translated his words into Spanish for the not-English-fluent parents in the room.

The five-year-old Los Promotores program is geared toward children in kindergarten through third grade, drawing students the immigrant neighborhood of Port Richmond. Once a week, the group receives intensive, one-on-one attention from Wagner College Education Department students, who lead them through activities to bolster their academic skills in literacy, math, social studies and science. Wagner professors and teachers further the programs’ uplifting impact by guiding parents in how to be successful in the American school system and promote a passion for learning at home.

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“It’s been eye opening since I started coming here. I’ve learned about different cultures, and it’s amazing to see their sense of community,” said Wagner Education Department student Stephane DeFilippi, who is pursuing her Master’s in Special Education and credits the experience for preparing her to teach in diverse communities.  “In a way, we’re teaching them but they’re also teaching us.”

She and the other teachers clutched hands with their young students, dancing across the floor to the sounds of hand hewn bells, chanting and drums. They learned about how some Native American nations use natural resources to build homes, farm land and as shields. During the question and answer session, kids eagerly asked about traditional foods, language and even the meaning of the feathers on the headdress (each feather has special significance and must be earned, said Robert Baldeagle proudly fingering the plumes).

The program furthered the knowledge the children have already built through field trips to arts and cultural institutions and educational shows and events. Los Promotores is funded by a generous grant from the Duetsche Bank Americas Foundation. The program was founded by Project Hospitality and El Centro del Inmigrante.

“It teaches you more things here,” said Henderson Ortega, 9, describing how he learned about the naturally crafted breast place some Native American Nations use to protect them against arrows. “When we participate in fun activities, we get to explore the world.”

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