Five years ago, Enrique Velásquez left his home in Honduras to arrive at his brother’s house in Fallsburg. Enrique was 15, spoke no English and knew no one at …
Five years ago, Enrique Velásquez left his home in Honduras to arrive at his brother’s house in Fallsburg. Enrique was 15, spoke no English and knew no one at Fallsburg Central High School.
“My mother wanted me to go to America to get a better education,” explained Velásquez.
“But it was hard for me,” he said. “I didn’t know what the teacher was saying. I couldn’t make friends. I felt excluded.”
Enter Valerie Brescia of the SUNY Sullivan Liberty Partnership Program (LPP), a project that works with at-risk middle and high school students struggling with academic, social and emotional issues.
“Val spoke to me in Spanish,” recalled Velásquez. She said, “‘We can help you out.’”
“She helped me in all my classes – science, social studies, math...” he said. “She taught me every day after school. In one year, I improved a lot and I joined the soccer team.”
Funded by the New York State Education Department, LPP is a collaboration of 46 New York State higher education institutions that work with middle school and high school students identified as at risk for dropping out of school. The program connects students with a comprehensive support system to prepare them for college, career planning and life afterwards.
“We tutor every subject in grades five to 12,” Valerie Brescia said. “We are bilingual. We offer drop-out prevention, we motivate students for college, trades and careers, we offer social and emotional plans, we do one-on-one tutoring.”
Based at SUNY Sullivan, Brescia has worked for five years at the college’s LPP and is now project director. From five to seven staff members are engaged with students.
“We have a room at Liberty Central School District where we do one-on-one tutoring with the students there,” said Brescia. “We also ‘push’ into the classroom (meaning they work one-on-one with students in their classrooms) and we offer after-school programs.”
Other local school districts benefiting from LPP are Monticello, which enjoys virtual help; Fallsburg, in person; and BOCES, where LPP staff work with students on-site or with virtual assistance. This past school year, LPP worked with 290 students.
Summer programs are also available, offering team building, Farm to Table experiences, and learning cooking in the college’s Culinary Department.
“For sixth, seventh and eighth graders this summer, we will be working on a recipe cookbook in two languages,” said Brescia.
As for Velásquez, he’s now 20 years old, a student at SUNY Sullivan. He plans to go on to a four-year college and gain either a math and science degree or a degree in engineering.
Until then, he is delighted to work professionally for LPP as a math and science tutor at Fallsburg High School and in Liberty schools after the school day.
“I see myself in the students I work with,” Velásquez said. “I see them struggle as I did in the past. I’m enjoying giving back.”
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