Since ninth grade, Palmer Trinity junior Mariana Navarro has volunteered at Goulds Elementary for the Big Buddies, Little Buddies program which is aimed at helping underprivileged children improve their reading and comprehension skills.
“You go there and sit with a kid,” she says. “They will ask you if they can be their Big Buddy. They will read to you. You help them understand the concept of the story.”
The teens work to make sure that even if the children are on grade level they also understand what they are reading.
“I work with a girl,” she says. “We read about Malala. I talked to her about how school in her country (Afghanistan) is not the same as here. In the country the girl is from, girls struggle to go to school. She knew something about it, but she was shocked about how many girls don’t go to school because their parents want the boys to go instead.”
Navarro goes to Goulds two Saturdays a month to help the kids. She’s worked with a fifth grader and now a third grader. Some of the children do begin reading at grade level, but they continue to attend the program – often because their parents want them to continue.
“I knew this guy who also went there, his Little Buddy from one month to the next skipped two reading levels,” she says.
Navarro knows what it’s like to struggle with language because she moved to the U.S. from Venezuela when she was eight, even though she had attended school with bilingual students in her home country.
“I had to take to English classes,” she says. “It was different for me to go to the school when the kids only speak English.”
When Navarro goes back to Venezuela to visit family, she and her family participate in activities to help the poor. They also collect items and money to be distributed to needy families.
“My nanny, we will give her the things we buy, and she sends them to her hometown,” she says. “We try to do that as much as we can when we are there. If we have family going, there we try to give them money.”
If they have family that is going to Venezuela for a visit, they send money to be given to the needy.
Next month she plans to join a church program that feeds the homeless.
“It’s good to help other people who are less privileged than you are,” she says.
At Palmer, Navarro is a peer counselor.
“I love it,” she says. “I think it’s a great thing to be a peer counselor. You put yourself in their shoes and you figure out the best possible outcome.”
The peer counselors recent spoke to the ninth-grade students and will be talking to the seventh grade soon. They plan to broach the topic of drugs and alcohol.
She’s also a Student Ambassador, available to give families tours of the school and answer questions about Palmer, and the yearbook co-editor.
Navarro has been on the Palmer Junior Varsity volleyball team but may not be able to play next year because of a thumb injury. Outside of school, she takes dance classes and swim classes.
Although it’s still early, she has identified a few schools she’s interested attending for college. Her list includes the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin and Houston. Her career goal is to become a social worker and help children be adopted.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld