Enroot is an organization dedicated to empowering immigrant youth to achieve academic, career, and personal success through inspiring out-of-school experiences. For the past 26 years, Enroot has directed programming for low-income immigrant high school students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) with program alumni graduating college at more than twice the rate of their peers with demonstrated increases in self-confidence, advocacy, and leadership skills. In 2016 Enroot expanded beyond Cambridge to serve the growing immigrant population at Somerville High School. In 2018, Enroot began serving college students as well, following our high schoolers into their first two years of college, when they’re most vulnerable of falling short of their full potential.
After doing this work for a quarter of a century, Enroot is in a unique position to identify the multitude of challenges facing low-income immigrant students and go about tackling them. Through our work, we narrow the achievement gap between Enroot students and their native-born peers. Navigating high school, post-secondary preparation and college are full of complexities and decisions that bear long term consequences. This is especially true for our English learner students, many of whom will be first-generation students on college campuses. Bob Dumas of Boston25 spent some time interviewing an Enroot alumnus, current students and staff, as well as filming a weekly seminar-workshop featuring several community leaders and discussing advocacy. The segment aired three times on April 16 and can be viewed HERE.
Our model begins with being fully committing to the students we serve. Schools recommend students to our program as soon as students arrive in the country and we serve these students throughout their high school career, often following them for 2 years into college. All of our students are English Language Learners (ELLs) or Formerly Limited English Proficient (FLEP) and greatly benefit from being paired one-on-one with a mentor. Mentoring is at the core of our model, as students not only value from practicing English one-on-one with an adult, but also greatly benefit from the social-emotional support and cultural capital they can gain from a mentor dedicated to helping them achieve their goals.
Our program model is designed to serve students with different levels of English language proficiency with activities and supports appropriate to their level (as measured by their school-designated ELL level, with “ELL 1” being the most basic and “ELL 4” being the most advanced). At all levels, complementing school day supports with robust after-school programming greatly accelerates our students’ pace of language acquisition, enabling them to more quickly transition out of academically segregated departments and ensuring they are given access to the resources to succeed.
Students who are just beginning to learn English enroll in the Explore program, which pairs each student with a mentor and provides brief weekly workshops, attended by student and mentor, designed to help students navigate their new community.
Students typically spend one year in the Explore Program before transitioning to the more intense Leadership Program, where students designated as ELL 3 and 4 engage in activities designed to increase access to postsecondary and career opportunities. Students meet once a week for 90 minutes with their mentor and on a separate evening for 90 minutes with their academic tutor. In the weekly Leadership Seminars, students explore post-secondary pathways and career interests, gain practical professional skills, and become increasingly engaged in the community. Additionally, students attend field trips to local colleges and universities, visit local workplaces, and hear from immigrant leaders in Somerville. Students have an opportunity during their 6-year relationship with Enroot to experience a professional work experience through a paid professional internship at one of our many internship partners, including companies like TripAdvisor, Google, Akamai, and the Broad Institute.
For students who are under a greater deal of financial stress, it can be hard to dedicate their out-of-school to Enroot rather than to a job. For that reason, this past year we created the Emerge cohort for students who could still greatly benefit from being paired one-on-one with a mentor without having to sacrifice the same time commitments. Emerge students meet once a week for an hour with their mentor and also receive ongoing support from Enroot staff when needed.
In our most recent Letter to the Community (attached below), we encouraged our communities to stand up in the face of hatred and find motivation in our students. As immigrants, our students sacrificed what was familiar in the hope that they would find greater security, stability, and opportunity. They knew it wouldn’t be easy but expected that for the most part they would be welcomed and encouraged to become their best.
Take a moment to look carefully at the photo I’ve included here. These are immigrant students. They are loving, they are driven, they are spunky, they are wise, they are unselfish, they are resilient, they are courageous. They are future coders, lawyers, inventors, engineers, carpenters, elected officials, pediatricians, accountants, social workers, they are the leaders of today and tomorrow. This is the true narrative of these young people.
The inhumane conditions at detention facilities, the threatened crackdown, and the many other attempts to instill fear in immigrant families require that each of us stand up with renewed vigor and use our voices to protect not only the dignity of immigrant families but also our very identity as a country. It is not an exaggeration to say this has become a fight for the soul of our nation.
This fight will not be won by simply expressing our frustration and disgust to those around us who nod in agreement.
This moment requires we each stand up, volunteer more time, donate more money, and speak out with more courage and more urgency. Each time they ratchet up their racist rhetoric and tactics we must again raise the volume of our message of love, inclusion, and humanity.
Let's raise our collective voice to a decibel never before heard, in a reaffirmation of who we are - a country that is compassionate and understands that we are strengthened by immigrants every single day.