• Lillie Burke

Tasukeai, ‘hand-in-hand’ ESL tutoring brings students and custodial staff together

Students and custodial staff don’t often get the chance to interact one-on-one, beyond quick exchanges in hallways or seeing each other around campus.

But Tasukeai, pronounced tah-skay-eye, is changing that by partnering custodial staff with Belmont students for tutoring in English as a second language.

“I just want everyone to have a voice because I think without a voice, you can’t really engage in a discussion, and there’s no disagreement, but there’s also no agreement either at that point,” Japanese-language adjunct professor and Tasukeai faculty sponsor Dr. Naoko Ozaki said.

Tasukeai began last spring as an extra credit opportunity for linked-cohort students in Ozaki’s “diversity and awareness” humanities class.

“My ultimate goal for the custodians is, of course, English,” said Ozaki, who prefers to be called Ozaki-sensee or simply “Sensee.” But I also hope to see them move beyond simple coexisting to “being participating citizens of the world, of at least this community,” she said. “That’s what I want for them in addition to ESL, but ESL happens to be sort of the means to get there.”

Translated, tasukeai means helping each other. As a branch of the Belmont Japan-America Relations Club, Tasukeai ESL tutoring is about bringing people together, hand in hand.

The service aspect appealed most to sophomore accounting major and Spanish minor Catherine Peltier.

“It’s kind of the whole reason I got into this in the first place. Yeah, I could go off and study Spanish and improve on my own, but I would rather be out helping other people and then my benefit is just a side,” she said. “When you give more, you receive more.”

Peltier, who was a student of Ozaki’s last spring, tutored two custodial staff members for extra credit.

She met with Heron Hall housekeeping staff member Lilia Jurado for two one-hour sessions, practicing conversational English and studying verbs and verb tenses.

The one-on-one tutoring helped her lose that fear of speaking with others in English, Jurado said.

Tasukeai is an important resource “because we can have better communication with our supervisors, managers and everything,” Jurado said.

The tutoring opportunity branched beyond an in-class opportunity to a program all Belmont students can now participate in, even if they aren’t part of the Belmont Japan-America Relations Club or even studying a foreign language.

Peltier serves as the student coordinator for Tasukeai, partnering students with staff members based on their schedule and availability, as well as students’ foreign-language ability and staff members’ English-language skills.

For the one-on-one sessions, students are trained to focus on one of two aspects of ESL tutoring, either teaching academic reading and writing or non-academic, conversational English, which has less of a grammar emphasis.

For every hour students tutor, they can earn an hour of community service or elective convo credit.

Neither prior ESL tutoring experience nor the ability to speak a second language is required to participate in Tasukeai. Interested students only need to have an open mind, Peltier said.

“It is about tutoring, but on the wider range, it’s about representing Americans for them because they haven’t experienced much American culture yet, so their jobs are basically all they know and their environment and the people they work with and if they’re nice,” she said. “So if they have this positive experience associated with Americans, then they can start feeling more comfortable in our culture.”

For more information about the Tasukeai ESL tutoring opportunity, contact Dr. Naoko Ozaki or Catherine Peltier at tasukeai@belmont.edu.

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