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Somerville SPELL

Julie Margolies says that 30 minutes rarely went by during her summer internship without her hearing Spanish, Portuguese, Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, or Haitian Creole.

That multicultural experience came with working at SPELL (Summer Program for English Language Learners), a free program in Somerville, Massachusetts, that helps qualifying students entering grades 1–9 practice English language skills. SPELL runs alongside a program that provides parents with tools, such as English language classes and access to educational resources, that can help them support their child’s development.

“The takeaway from this internship was that I was able to see the bigger picture of people who are learning English as a second language,” says Margolies, who grew up in suburban Carlisle, Massachusetts. “I also learned a lot about Somerville and how exciting it is.”

Margolies began her internship in June with administrative work and policy research for the director of the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative, an arm of the Somerville Public Schools supporting at-risk youth and their families.

After public school let out, she joined SPELL. As programming assistant, she was a central point person in a busy office: she coordinated the work of six parent leaders who serve as connectors with students and help bridge language barriers, and she was a communication liaison between program administrators and 16 teachers. She also organized field trips to places such as the USS Constitution, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and the Somerville Public Library.

When her schedule permitted, she would drop in on ESL classrooms and help teach 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, and sometimes also their parents. “I was working one day with adults to introduce them to computers and asked them to create a Word document and then write me a sentence in English,” she says. “I walked away and when I came back to this one man, he had written: ‘I am really enjoying this class—you are a great teacher.’ He had connected his learning with new skills. That was great to hear.”

A double major in sociology and child development, and an ESL tutor for Tufts cleaning staff, Margolies has continued to work at the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative this fall.

“The summer internship confirmed that I like to be directly involved in public service that meets an important need,” she says. “The focus on language skills is really about creating and expanding connectivity between people and strengthening the Somerville community as a whole. It’s very rewarding to be part of that.”

Funding Engaged Citizens

More than 60 students participated this summer in the 2013 Active Citizenship Summer (ACS) Fellowship Program at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service—a leap forward for the program.

The program recently expanded from Washington, D.C.; Somerville, Mass.; and select international placements to now include New York City and additional Massachusetts communities.

Thanks to a $1 million gift from the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation, this year’s placements more than doubled in New York, jumping from 4 to 11, and placements in Massachusetts grew at a similar pace, from 7 to 17.

The fellowships come with stipends, which allow students who might otherwise need to take a paying summer job to instead devote their time to these life-changing opportunities. The program also connects students with alumni mentors in their host cities, and includes regular gatherings at which fellows reflect on their experiences and share what they’ve learned.

Nancy Wilson, dean ad interim of Tisch College, says the funding gives a welcome boost to a program that immerses students in addressing problems such as poverty, literacy, and child labor. “There is a tremendous demand from Tufts students to work closely with organizations tackling complex social issues,” she says. “They want to develop the skills to be part of the solution.”

Jamie Dimon, A78, chair, president, and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, says he and his wife are pleased to support ACS Fellows. “We hope we can give more Tufts students the chance to become active and engaged citizens,” he says. “When you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, there really is no substitute for hands-on experience.”

Everyone shares some responsibility, Dimon added. “For our part, business leaders, elected officials, and others need to focus on making sure young people have opportunities so they are ready to step up and help our country continue to lead in a complex global economy.”