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Paying it Forward

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Jorge Orozco '16

Jorge L. Orozco spoke no English when he enrolled in a Reading middle school. But thanks to dedicated teachers and hard work, Orozco learned the language and excelled. Today, the Albright College senior is giving back, helping the next generation of Reading ESL students succeed.

By Kelsey Rudy '16

When Jorge L. Orozco began attending Northeast Middle School in Reading, he couldn’t speak, read or write English.

A native of rural Mexico, the 11-year-old Orozco was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class and began learning his letters.

“I started from scratch,” he says.

Fast forward 10 years, and Orozco is now tutoring students facing the same language barrier he once tackled.

“I know how hard it is to not be able to communicate with others,” says Orozco '16, who volunteers at neighboring 13th and Union Elementary School, which has a sizeable population of English language learners (ELL).

“The students become frustrated and they don’t want to do the work, nor even try. I tell them all the time that I was in their shoes once and that it was harder for me since I was older when I came here.”

Orozco started giving back in high school, the result of a senior project to fulfill a community service requirement. Orozco returned to Northeast Middle and started a tutoring program to help students with homework, to get them motivated, and to share his similar origins.

He organized a group of friends and former ELL students to help. Orozco continued the work into his first semester at Albright.

During his freshman year, Orozco began volunteering with the Albright College-13th and Union Partnership.

The partnership began in 2004 with Albright education majors doing their student teaching and observations at 13th and Union. Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Wyomissing Foundation, the partnership has expanded to other academic departments at the College.

The Partnership now includes after-school homework and reading help and tutoring at 13th and Union, with Albright students helping the grade schoolers.

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Orozco (right) participated in Albright's 2015 Alternative Spring Break project in Reading.

For the last three years, Orozco, a business administration major, has been volunteering at the elementary school in one capacity or another. He serves as a homework aide, especially for ELL students.

Orozco has also helped to translate during parent-teacher conferences and during a community fair held at 13th and Union earlier this year.

Though he has no plans to pursue a career working with children, Orozco says he enjoys spending time with them.

Sometimes the students need a little extra motivation to do their homework, but Orozco seems to have a knack for encouraging them.

That's because "the students really look up to him because he is from Reading and can relate to their experiences,” says Dorothea Miller, partnership coordinator and former principal at the elementary school.

As a child, Orozco’s first ESL class in Reading had 25, sixth- through eighth-grade students, none of whom knew enough English to hold a conversation.

“I felt like I learned enough to hold a conversation after one year, but I put a lot of work into it to be able to do that. It was really hard," he recalls.

Orozco says he was fortunate to have some dedicated teachers at Northeast Middle, who encouraged and guided him through the obstacles. One teacher in particular, Katherine Igusky, left an indelible mark on him.

“She really believed in me and she thought I had a lot of potential."

Igusky recommended Orozco for advanced courses in high school. "So I was now with kids that were really smart and I did not feel smart at all," he recalls. "I felt like it was a lot of pressure put on me, but I was like 'OK, she believed in me, so I’m just going to try my best.' It actually kind of worked out.”

Orozco still returns to Northeast Middle to thank her.

Grateful to the people in his life that inspired and motivated him, Orozco continues to pay it forward, not just at 13th and Union.

He participated in this year's Alternative Spring Break, part of a group of Albright students who teamed-up with students from Southern Vermont College to conduct service projects in the Reading area, including a project at 13th and Union.

Orozco encourages all his fellow Albrightians to volunteer and give back in whatever way they find enjoyable.

“I don’t need to do it. But I want to because I really enjoy it,” he says.


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