Language is not a barrier to Glendale teacher's aide
The Republic Republic
Jul. 17, 2004  
by Kristin Park

Glendale resident Delfina Huerta, 62, volunteers full time as a teacher's aide at the Discovery School, her neighborhood elementary school.

What makes Huerta's volunteer teaching experience unique is that she speaks only Spanish while her students are English-speaking.

"She communicates to them through actions, not just words. You don't need language to show love," teacher Flora Dean said. "All the kids just love her so much."

Even with a language barrier, Huerta has no trouble bonding with the young students who call her "Nana Huerta." The class of 25 is a combination of kindergarteners and first-graders.

Huerta started volunteering through the Foster Grandparent Program of West Maricopa County. The program is sponsored by Northern Arizona University and offers seniors the opportunity to share their life experiences with young children and their teachers. The volunteers' mission is to make an impact on the lives of children by developing intergenerational relationships.

Huerta volunteered more than 1,300 hours last year, assisting in Dean's classroom. The Discovery School is one of a handful of Valley schools that offer a dual language program. The students are primarily English speakers who want to become fluent in Spanish.

Huerta offers one-on-one tutoring to help the students improve their writing and reading skills. In addition to academic support, Huerta also provides extra emotional support to the students.

"The fact that she speaks Spanish is a great plus," Dean said. "She's a very caring, generous person who seeks to do some good for our school and our community."

Huerta learned about the Foster Grandparent Program two years ago from a flier at her grandson's Head Start center. She was immediately interested in the idea of being surrounded by children every day.

"I love contributing to their success. . . . I do not see any challenges. I love what I am doing and I do it with all my energies. Despite only speaking Spanish, I do not see it as an obstacle to helping the children and the teacher," Huerta said through an interpreter.

Huerta not only volunteers in the classroom 40 hours per week, but she also participates in other community service activities. The Volunteer Action Committee, composed of Foster Grandparent volunteers, offers a way for the volunteers to serve their community in a leadership capacity.

Huerta has supported local events such as Martin Luther King Day activities and Glendale's Make Your Mark Day. Although Huerta considers her involvement in Volunteer Action Committee activities an important facet of her life, it is the time spent in the classroom that truly brings her joy.

Dean considers Huerta's presence a blessing.

"I thank God my guardian angel was watching over my class and brought me Delfina," Dean said.