Barrio Assistance group overcomes organizational struggles

Nov. 5, 2015, 3:34 p.m.

Barrio Assistance, Stanford’s entirely student-run tutoring group for elementary and middle school children, has a fresh group of student coordinators this fall. Barrio operates without advisors or Stanford faculty and interacts with a wide variety of Palo Alto schools, parents and kids, creating leadership challenges for the students in charge of the program, as well as unique merits.

“The coordinators bear the brunt of dealing with the outside community,” said Elisa Hofmeister ’18, one of four coordinators. “Communication is by far the hardest… you’re constantly trying to establish contact with another party.”

The coordinators have to think far in advance to anticipate the needs of each family, and last-minute plan changes always come up.

Leadership changes within Barrio also require maneuvering. According to group leaders, the organization dealt with commitment issues last year, with both the president and multiple tutors leaving unexpectedly during the year. The group has also had some flux this fall, with one coordinator abroad and another leaving the program on short notice.

“A lot of tutors drop out from year to year,” said tutor Daniel Sanchez ’17. “There are really no repercussions of being absent or not being the best tutor.”

This year, the coordinators are trying to create a more cohesive community, not only between tutors and tutees, but also among tutors. Instead of 30 minutes of free time to begin the session, tutors and tutees now sit together to eat dinner or breakfast, with conversation starters planned by the coordinators. After sessions, tutors have a cool-down session where they can discuss concerns about their tutees and bond with one another.

To keep the program running smoothly, the current coordinators have focused on constant communication with one another and being adaptable in their roles.  

“If we all had strict roles, it would be hard to fill in,” said coordinator Benny deMayo ’18. “In college, with students, people are going to be absent and life happens.”

The program tutors middle school students on Friday evenings and elementary students on Saturday mornings. For both sessions, Barrio provides transportation, meals and recreational activities, each requiring extensive organization throughout the week.

“Because we are a student-run organization, we have to prioritize our time and what we’re going to put our energy into,” Hofmeister said.

There is no standardized curriculum in the program, so the coordinators may change their approach depending on the tone of the tutees and tutors.

However, this sense of flux also is one of Barrio’s distinctive assets, allowing “leeway to change up the model,” as Hofmeister put it. The tutors have also been given a stronger voice in deciding activities, with the aim of making everyone feel engaged in the community and reinforcing commitment to the program.

The flexible model also reinforces mentorship. In absence of a rigid agenda each week, kids can talk to their tutors at length about life, friends and problems. Some tutors, like Sanchez, tutor the same student for several years in a row, creating a meaningful relationship for both parties.

“Tutees really become close to the students from Stanford,” deMayo said.

For financial officer Brenda Flores ’17, from a self-described rough neighborhood in Chicago, the student-run aspect of Barrio makes the tutor-tutee relationships much more valuable. Because of her age and background, Flores not only understands some of the struggles of tutees, but also is not far removed from them — she can pull from recent experience only possible for a young person.

“I know where these kids are coming from,” Flores said. “I know I can provide some kind of guidance to them, and relate to them.”

For the coordinators, Barrio encourages responsibility distinctive from most student groups, deeply rooted in the real world.

“It’s just realistic — we’re not always going to have someone whose sole job is to handhold us,” Hofmeister said. “That’s just life, you need to figure out how to deal with it and plan ahead.”


Contact Fiona Kelliher at fionak ‘at’

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