Post #6 – Rania

My name is Rania Dali. I am a freshman at Bryn Mawr College and this is my first semester taking part in the Big Sisters Program. I became acquainted with the program through one of my friends, Jacquelyn Arroyo, who is also a member and as soon as I knew the purpose it served I wanted to join.

Every Friday afternoon, six of us Big Sisters with our wonderful program coordinators, Inés Arribas and Julien Suaudeau, drive to Willard Elementary to spend time with our Little sisters. We start our time together with an icebreaker, then move on to reading and writing, before wrapping up with a game chosen by the Little sisters. I remember the first time I went to Willard and met my Little sister, Aaliyah. She was a shy young girl and looked afraid to voice her opinions. But, as soon as we were given the ice-breaker topic, she opened up to me about her family members and school. I was taken aback by the fact that she was willing to trust me but I also instantly knew she is brilliant and has a lovely sense of humor.

Aaliyah loves reading and every time we read she explores a new genre of books. She takes risks and challenges herself without me having to push her. She always picks books that are at a reading level higher than the one she is accustomed to – books with words she hasn’t learned yet. At first, I was unaware of the words she didn’t understand, but as our relationship developed she started asking me for definitions and I also became able to pick up signs of when she is struggling. We developed our own little activity each time we came across a word she didn’t understand: we search up the definition and relate it to the illustrations in the book rather than the sentence it belongs to and see in what other instances the word fits in the book.

During ice-breakers, the Little sisters often write a list or a couple of sentences and then share them with the rest of the group if they choose to. Often, the Little sisters are intimidated by the setting and ask their Big sister to share on their behalf. During our recent session, however, I asked Aaliyah if she wanted to share her production and she accepted. When it was her turn, I looked at her and she nodded and faced everyone around the table to share her favorite memory from Thanksgiving break. Seeing Aaliyah come out of her comfort zone and gain confidence filled my heart with joy. It’s these moments that make Big Sisters a wonderful program and prove that anyone can grow and reach their goals if there is someone believing in them.

Post #5 – Zoila

My name is Zoila Regalado. I am a junior at Bryn Mawr College, majoring in Spanish and minoring in LAILS (Latin American Iberian Latina/o Studies). I am a first-generation college student, and as a first gen, college can be hard, sometimes, without having someone to rely on; everything is a first.

 

I am one of the students who began working with the Big Sistersprogram in 2017. When I joined, there were only four of us who travelled to Willard Elementary School every Friday. I decided to join because back in high school, I had been involved in some volunteering. Back then, the idea of helping other students seemed somewhat boring to me until my role model, Dr. Rodriguez, encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to try it. I discovered that I love helping other students who are in the same situation as I was when I arrived in the United States, not knowing any English and having to learn it as a second language. If I had to give some advice, it would be this: “Never tell yourself you can’t, until you try it and find out if you really are not capable of doing it or it’s not to your liking, as these are two different things —just get out of that COMFORT ZONE, don’t be shy”.

Starting the program, the little sisters can come across as distant. When they start to know us well, however, they become very familiar and more energetic. They constantly ask Ms. Bronte, the school’s counselor, when their big sisters are coming back to work with them. The first two semesters, I worked one-on-one with my little sister, Gaby, who graduated from elementary school past June. Gaby was a bit timid, but she was a smart, witty girl. At the time, we only worked on reading skills. Now, I am working with three little sisters: Briseyda, who is also shy but persistent; Nasiah, who is outgoing and ambitious; and Yeilin, who is impulsive but also a bright soul.  This year we have incorporated writing to our reading activities. Briseyda, Nasia and Yeilin are like best friends, which sometimes makes it a bit overwhelming because they are making jokes out of thin air, and not always focusing on the task at hand. Yet, we always achieve the goal of the day.

This time of the semester is a bit exciting for all of us because of winter break, but not being able to see my little sisters is a brutal prospect: being an only child, I consider them as my real little sisters. The separation is heartbreaking because of the warm connection we have built over the semester. For me, it will be even more difficult this year, because I am going abroad in the Spring and therefore I will not be able to see them until next academic year.

I am more than eager to continue being part of the Big SistersProgram, because I know I am working for a great cause. I am positive that I am making a change in the lives of these girls and I hope someday they can also change someone else’s life.

Post #4 – Rebeca

My name is Rebeca Zamora.

I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, double majoring in International Studies and Spanish. I am also a first-generation college student and a first-generation immigrant, which is why I decided to be part of the Big Sisters program and become a role model to other girls who may be in a position that was once mine. I know that there were people in my life who motivated me to pursue higher education despite all the difficulties involved – especially the language barrier when I first arrived in the United States – and I wanted to be this person to my little sisters.

I first learned about the program through a blog entry posted on the Bryn Mawr College’s main webpage last spring in 2018. I did not think twice about joining and immediately decided to talk to professor Arribas about it. A few months later, I feel that I have embarked on a rewarding journey that I regard as an opportunity to give back the support I once received from people who wanted to see me succeed and achieve my dreams.

My two sisters, Joliana and Glerielis, are very strong and motivated despite being at a disadvantage with other girls in the group. Although Glerielis is a little behind in reading, this has never stopped her from participating enthusiastically in the program and helping out Joliana, who also struggles with reading and speaking English. Although Glerielis has missed a couple of days, she always comes back with the same energy and the desire to learn more and improve her reading and writing skills. She does not want to give up, and this is something that I admire about her.

Jolianas’s situation is a little bit different: just like me, she is a first-generation immigrant who came from Puerto Rico about two years ago. However, just like Glerielis, Joliana does not let her lack of English proficiency discourage her from participating in our academic activities (reading and writing) even if that means asking her big sister how to spell or pronounce words she is not familiar with. This is what I admire most about my little sisters: neither of them is afraid to ask as many questions as they need, which clearly says that they’re both fighters and that they will go above and beyond to achieve what they want.

I see a lot of potential in them, and I am glad I was chosen to be their big sister. By being there for them once a week, I believe I am making a change in their lives and encouraging them to think big about their futures.

Post #3 – Amanda

My name is Amanda Moran, I am a junior at Bryn Mawr College. I am also a
McBride student, which means I did not go the traditional student route. I started part-time at the Community College of Philadelphia at the age of 23
and transferred to Bryn Mawr College last fall. I have a background working in biomedical research and a strong passion for the study of genetics. As a
psychology major, I hope to either pursue a PhD in Developmental Psychology or use my well-rounded understanding of development to work with and help adolescents in another way.

One day, last spring, while sitting in my elementary French class, my professor Julien Suaudeau, who is one of the coordinators alongside Inés Arribas, brought up the Big Sisters Program. He told us once a week a group of Bryn Mawr students went to Willard Elementary School in Kensington and mentored third and fourth-grade female students. I was immediately drawn to the program for two reasons: First, as someone who also came from a slightly rough upbringing as well, I owe most of my success to the adults who showed me not just care but consistency. It’s an honour to be a part of that for someone else, as it was done for me. Secondly, I have always enjoyed working with children and, as someone who is narrowing down a career path, I wanted to see if working hands-on with children and adolescents would be something I am interested in.

The first week we met our little sisters and did some icebreakers. Samiah and Taniyah probably didn’t even need those, they have never been shy, which I enjoy that about them. The last few weeks I have spent one on one time with Samiah. We start off with an icebreaker, and then we read and write for twenty to thirty minutes. Although she gets to pick which book she wants to read, I try and influence her to read about a different subject each week. I do this in an attempt to broaden her interests and knowledge a little more. Last week, we read a book about following rules in class and this week we read a Zoobook (okay, I strongly influenced this one) about turtles. She then writes on a topic given by Teresa, the coordinator of the program at Willard, who is also their guidance counselor. Samiah is an excellent writer and, as evidenced by all the questions she asks, she genuinely cares about her work.

The final and best part of our time together is the free time at the end. Samiah always insists on playing a special form of Jenga, in which each block has a question on it. I can’t say exactly what is discussed, because one of the rules set forth by Teresa is that what is said there stays there. I believe that is important, and I think because of it Samiah lets me into her life a little more each week. This past Friday she told me something personal and followed it with, “I only tell my best friends that, and well you, because I really like you and I trust you.” At the end of each week, we talk about small goals for the next week or anything exciting coming up for her that she will want to tell me about when I see her next. It’s a privilege to work with these girls; they have huge hearts and strong potential. I think as big sisters we not only get the chance to give back, but we also have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves personally and academically.

Post #2 – Sierra

My name is Sierra Norman, I am a senior at Bryn Mawr College. I am majoring in Psychology on the Pre-Med track and minoring in Child & Family Studies. I have always had a passion for helping children and am pursuing a career as a pediatric psychiatrist where I can continue to do so.

When I was a freshman at Bryn Mawr College, I wanted to find a club or program to volunteer with that was focused on helping children. I joined the Belmont Mentoring Club, which partnered with the Belmont Charter School to help the students with homework, attend their extracurricular clubs, and do activities with them. Unfortunately, the program ended during my sophomore year and there wasn’t another to replace it. So when I read about the Big Sister Program last Spring, I was so excited and immediately reached out to get information about how I could be involved! I met with the program organizers, Inés Arribas and Julien Suaudeau, and was on board to start this Fall.

The program started with a group meeting for the members on campus and then another meeting for a tour of Willard Elementary School before working with the Little Sisters. We have had three meetings with our Little Sister’s this semester. The first day we met with the girls, they were so happy to start the program, but also a little shy. I was very excited and was hoping my Little Sisters would like me! We spent some time the first day with icebreakers and getting to know one another.

Our main goal with this program, aside from being a constant for the children to rely on, is to help prepare them for the Pennsylvania System School Assessment (PSSA). We spend most of our time reading and writing with them to prepare for the test. We also spend a little bit of time with icebreakers and fun activities to help establish a bond. Since we are still early on in the program, my Little Sister is a little shy and quiet. But she has shown more silliness this week and also is very willing to get prepared for the PSSA, so I am looking forward to working with her for the rest of the program!

I am really excited to invite our Little Sisters to come to Bryn Mawr College’s campus in the spring and show them around. Other members of the Big Sisters Program will be writing about their experiences over the next few weeks, so stay tuned to read about them!

Post #1 – Jackie

My name is Jacquelyn Arroyo. I am a Freshman at Bryn Mawr College and one of the six students volunteering in the Big Sisters Program.

 

I am more than honoured to be a mentor for third- and fourth-grade girls at Willard Elementary School, but also a big sister. I came into this program eager and ready to face the unexpected. The very first day of the program, when I met my little sisters Honesty, Yoselin and Yelitza, I felt a burst of joy just thinking of the amazing experience the students are gaining. Every Friday, we drive up to Kensington, where the school is located. We wait for our little sisters to arrive at the library where we host the program. We start as a group with an ice-breaker activity before we split in small groups (two little sisters with one big sister), and the girls pick a book they would like to read. When one of our little sisters is reading with her mentor, the other one writes on a topic given. We end our sessions with games that we play with other sister groups. When our time is up, we all leave ready for next week’s gathering or wanting more time to spend with each other.  

 

On the first day, it was tough to get them talking at first but when the barrier was broken, we were laughing and smiling. Honesty, one of my little sisters, said she never had anyone ask her what her dreams or aspirations were. She smiled and said that everyone should be a part of these wonderful groups of girls. My little sister Yoselin was eager to read but struggled because of her little knowledge of the English language, having arrived recently from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. However, that did not stop her. She persisted through and was able to read three full pages of Where The Wild Things Are on her own. I had never seen so much grit and determination in a third-grader.  

 

I am very excited to be a part of this program, because of how it creates a learning culture for the Willard Elementary students. When I was their age, I never received the opportunity to have a mentor that was able to help me in my academics and life problems. I come from a rough background, just like many of the students at Willard. My goal is to increase their self-confidence and to remind them that they are still able to succeed regardless of the background they come from. My little sisters and I learn a lot from one another, from what we want to be when we grow up to why we joined and do this program. I can’t wait to continue my journey with them and see them grow and blossom.