By Katie Murdoch Herald Writer
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The Community Homework Center is more than a place for students to get help with their multiplication tables.
It’s an avenue for children and teenagers to feel connected to their community and realize their neighbors care about them, said Pat Cordova, who runs the nonprofit.
“We consider ourselves family,” Cordova said.
The center is going into its seventh year offering homework help to students within and outside the Edmonds School District. Students from preschool through high school are invited to stop by from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Terrace Park Middle School, 5409 228th St. SW in Mountlake Terrace. Parents are invited to stay.
Tutors include current and former teachers as well as high school students. This year, there are about 20 volunteers.
“When you teach students to give back and help each other, you have a better community,” Cordova said.
One Mountlake Terrace High School basketball player arrived on a night he wasn’t scheduled to tutor. He told Cordova he enjoyed helping so much, he wanted to come back.
“I thought that was really special,” she said.
Cordova wants students to feel linked to their community and realize people want them to succeed academically.
Her goal is to see each student graduate from high school.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or who your parents are,” she said. “You’re in charge of your future.”
Selena Williams, 12, started attending two years ago to get extra help with her math homework. Since then, Selena and her parents have been delighted to see her grades improve.
Selena thrives because she has a chance to meet peers from other schools and work with others on similar assignments, she said. The energetic environment keeps her motivated.
“My parents say they think it’s good because my grades are getting better and I don’t get distracted,” she said.
Many students in the Edmonds School District have parents who speak little to no English, making it difficult to help their children with their studies. A globe sits on one of the center’s desks with black dots pinpointing where students’ families emigrated from. The dots cover Afghanistan, the Philippines and Indonesia, to name a few.
These parents work extremely hard and want their children to excel, Cordova said.
“This is a community (where) we all help and respect each other,” she said.
That language barrier is evident in classrooms, said Diane Graham, a music teacher at Terrace Park. But even English-speaking parents have trouble helping their children with schoolwork.
Graham is in her seventh year volunteering and realizes there is an increasing need for students to get help with their studies.
“Kids need that good habit to get things accomplished,” Graham said.
Some of the students tutored at the center turned their grades around and went off to attend college.
“We’ve built a community,” Graham said.
Jaime Garcia-Ruiz, 15, followed his older sister to the center five years ago. He started out needing help in math and has since noticed he needs less help in school.
The friendly competitions and prizes for age-appropriate challenges motivate him.
“It’s really fun here and you can do activities that improve your skills,” he said.
Some of the volunteers come to be viewed as mentors.
“Some are fun to talk to,” Jaime said.
The nonprofit relies heavily on donations, including backpacks from JanSport, a room filled with laptops from the Gates Foundation and funding from their sponsor, the Alderwood-Terrace Rotary Club. The center offers school supplies year-round for teachers affected by state budget cuts.
The program began in a church before a partnership with the Edmonds School District allowed them to relocate to Terrace Park.
The students are bright and pick up concepts quickly, said Mike Cordova, a volunteer and Rotary member, and son of Pat Cordova. However, the language barriers make it difficult for some students to fully understand what a question is asking.
“The small time we spend with them gets them over the hump and toward better grades,” he said. “They’re all bright kids; we’re just bridging that communication gap.”
The center began seven years ago as the Rotary Hispanic Club, tailored to help Spanish-speaking families. However, the need to help all nationalities in the increasingly diverse community prompted them to rename the nonprofit and draw in more nationalities.
“It’s for everyone,” Pat Cordova said.