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BIC Launches Pilot Program: Ayudantes Escolares Online
(K-5 Online Tutors)

At the end of April, Building Integrated Communities (BIC) learned from the community and local government partners across the state about a widespread issue resulting from the pandemic. Families with limited English proficiency were struggling to help their children with distance learning at home. Even if they were given laptop and WiFi access, there were still challenges in navigating an unfamiliar language and complicated assignments. Even those of us whose first language is English can have a hard time helping our kids with their math or science homework!

Working with our colleagues at the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA), home of BIC, we engaged the resources of ISA’s K-12 Outreach program to develop the new program Ayudantes Escolares Online (Online K-5 Tutors), and to get the word out to potential volunteers and families in need.

“It was a natural fit to partner with BIC,” said Corin Zaragoza Estrera. “Over the years, the K-12 Outreach Program of the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University has created a large network of educators who were crucial in helping us identify families in need of tutoring. And on a personal level, it has been deeply fulfilling to use my past experience as a teacher to train volunteers to work with ESL students.”

(For more information about K-12 resources, contact

Ayudantes Escolares came together in three weeks, in spite of all the logistics involved: reinstating background check processes in local school systems; interviewing, vetting, and clearing volunteers; registering the program with UNC’s Protection of Minors on Campus; coordinating with teachers across the state to connect with families and students in need; troubleshooting technical issues with internet and connectivity; and doing everything as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of the little time left of the school year!

This new online educational pilot program aims to connect tutors with elementary school students in families with at least one member who is learning English. The goal of the pilot is to better support students engaged in home schooling during the COVID-19 crisis. Tutors are students at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University who speak Spanish and English and will receive oversight from trained staff at the Institute for the Study of the Americas at UNC-Chapel Hill. It will run through August to provide summer enrichment and learning support.

Within the first two days of opening registration for Ayudantes Escolares Online, there were more than 30 sign-ups from parents in all parts of the state, and there are now 48 families signed up, with some on a wait list. More than 30 volunteers have signed up to tutor.

“There has been an overwhelming response from volunteers, families, and teachers, so we know this opportunity is addressing a critical need across the state,” said Hannah Gill, who oversees the Latino Migration Project and is Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

“We are working with students and teachers in Chatham County Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, Durham Public Schools, and Orange County Schools.”

A Strong Team Makes a Difference

Having a strong team was one of the things that made the launch of the program such a success. Two students from UNC-Chapel Hill who graduated this spring joined Hannah Gill and Corin Zaragoza-Estrera to develop and coordinate Ayudantes Escolares.

Born in Veracruz, Mexico and moving to the United States at the age of four, Marisa Carlton has a B.A. in Global Studies (concentration in International Politics with focus on Latin America) and a double major in Communications (concentration in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication), along with a minor in Social and Economic Justice.

Brianna Gilmore, who lived abroad in Ecuador for a year working with the Waorani community before starting college, has a B.A. in Latin American Studies with minors in Hispanic Studies and Geography. Both Marisa and Brianna have been a dedicated part of the community at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, bringing their skills and experience, as well as compassion.

“The parents were really grateful to learn about this program,” said Marisa. “With the pandemic and everything being virtual, teachers are connecting with the students via Google classroom, which is especially tough for elementary aged kids. Having tutors is helping them get the attention that they need. During this time, it’s been awesome being able to give back to the community.”

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