Community Engagement | Spotlight

English classes make learning fun for local kids

CSULA students team up with ELACYC after-school program

On the Cal State L.A.-
ELACYC collaboration

(By Angel Ramirez, coordinator of the learning and arts center at ELACYC)

“I believe that true success stories are those that cannot been foreseen, predicted, and in some cases, are even unexpected. The recent and ongoing collaboration between Cal State L.A. and the ELACYC has proven that when the opportunity to make a positive investment in the life of a child is presented to a group of citizens eager to touch their community, the outcome can truly surprise all parties involved and set an awesome example for others given similar situations.

Some success stories from spring 2009 include a renewal of interest in reading and learning, a greater respect for grammar and the unforeseeable result of someone caring enough to take the time to invest in the life of a child. When Professors Hawley and Sonnenschein and I originally sat down and shared our dreams for a partnership and how each believed each could benefit from the other, none of us could have imagined that more than 50 students would respond and that the results would be as great as they are.

This reinforces my belief that: dreaming and believing is the pathway to achieving.”

About CSULA’s Office of Community Engagement

The Office of Community Engagement aims to link academic teaching, learning and community service by engaging students, faculty, and community partners in collaborative relationships that embrace diversity and social justice. It supports a broader university-wide culture of community engagement that contributes to student success and prepares students to serve the changing needs of a global society.

For more about Cal State L.A.’s Office of Community Engagement, go to /

Picture of ELACYC children enjoying the goofy grammar game, led by Cal State L.A. student Tania Varona.
ELACYC children enjoying the goofy grammar game, led by Cal State L.A. student Tania Varona. (Photo courtesy of ELACYC)

With a goofy grammar game, a reading raffle contest and a bookcase painting project, the East Los Angeles Community Youth Center (ELACYC) children are having fun while engaged in learning.

Focused on providing CSULA students an understanding of the role of language and literature in children’s education, English Professors Michelle Hawley and Aaron Sonnenschein asked their classes to come up with innovative ways to work on language arts and grammar for the ELACYC after-school program.

Picture of CSULA student Brenda Ascencio presenting raffle prizes to ELACYC children. (Photo courtesy of ELACYC)

In collaboration with the University’s Office of Community Engagement, CSULA students in English 301 (An Introduction to Language) and English 430 (Children’s Literature) developed creative, hands-on activities to get the ELACYC children interested in reading and to help improve their English grammar.

The CSULA students, many of whom are planning to become teachers, also coordinated a Spanish-language literacy program and a recycling drive to collect books for the ELACYC as part of their class assignment.

Concurrently, the ELACYC program provided the CSULA students an opportunity to work directly with children. As Christine Ni, a liberal studies major, said, “The experience allowed me to get a picture of what it will be like in the future to work with children when I become a teacher.”

Professor Sonnenschein noted that many of the CSULA students come from backgrounds similar to the children with whom they are working with, so they can easily relate to them. He said, “We need to make learning programs as exciting as possible, so that we can entice the children to learn while playing. We also work to fill a necessary role in the community by helping to try to develop literacy in the first language of many of the young students, Spanish.”

According to urban learning major Brenda Ascencio, who helped organize the reading raffle contest, “At first this was only a task, but it has evolved into a mission. I think that every new idea that comes into the center will help it come closer to becoming a productive learning center.”

And, child development major Greg Valencia found great value participating in this joint effort, doing service-learning work that he described was “genuine and goal-oriented.” He said, “I will hold a great memory of knowing I made a difference.”

Child development major Rosemary Liu, who helped create a grammar room at ELACYC, said, “We worked extremely hard to make the room fun, engaging and appropriate. The once-empty room is now filled with informative posters and beautiful decorations. I also tutored the children with their homework and read to them regularly. They helped me realize how important education is for young children. This experience has also shown me that working together as a team is what it is all about. Children need to have support from their parents, school and community.”

For more about the ELACYC, go to For a directory of academic courses offering service-learning opportunities, go to /centers/sl/courses.php.

Several other community groups and service agencies partnering with Cal State L.A.: