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Loyola's School Counseling graduate students provide services to English learning youth at The Esperanza Center

The Esperanza Center, a comprehensive resource center whose mission is to welcome immigrants by offering hope, compassionate services, and the power to improve their lives, is where Dr. Qi Shi, associate professor of Loyola University Maryland’s School Counseling program, and her graduate students have been providing their services—particularly with its English Language Learning (ELL) youth program. The youth program serves immigrant students who need English language services in the Baltimore area. 

The collaboration between the youth program, Dr. Shi, and her graduate students began in the summer of 2018. The graduate students would work with the youth for five weeks in the summer to provide classroom lessons on social emotional learning, while also building rapport through extra curriculum activities. Through this experience, graduate students gained experiential learning opportunities to enhance their cultural awareness and sensitivity. 

The opportunity to work with the youth program was made possible through funding by Loyola’s Kolvenbach Research Grant Program. This program aims to foster and encourage socially engaged research. The program seeks to honor Loyola’s research strengths and galvanize the institution’s commitment to faith and justice work that serves the needs of the underserved in the Baltimore community and beyond. 

“The graduate students enjoyed their interactions with the youth. They had the opportunity to build connections and witness the kids opening up to them and gaining confidence. Students especially treasured greeting the youth at the beginning and end of each day, as a growing sense of attachment and camaraderie unfolded,” said Shi. 

Graduate students were able to put theory into practice during this hands-on experience. Being able to apply their counseling knowledge and skills and working as part of a counseling team really helped them to grow both professionally and personally. This experience helped students prepare for their roles as future school counselors and increased their confidence in cultural competency. 

Nevertheless, it did not come without challenges. Some of the biggest challenges centered around applying instructional skills, keeping up energy, and maintaining participant engagement in an online environment. Students had to be sensitive to the different language barriers, academic levels, and educational experiences. Students strove to be flexible and made relevant adaptations to the curriculum after each lesson in response to the youth’s needs.  

“Everything our students learned in the program, from developing relationships to managing uncertainties, are skills that are valuable to professionals in the school counseling field,” said Shi. “My hopes for this partnership in the future is to work with the Esperanza Center directors, the youth program manager, and the family reunification program manager to develop a program that could be provided to the immigrant youth who are newcomers to the U.S. to reunite with their families.”

The school counseling students also worked with Dr. Shi on two manuscripts, “Experiential training for school counselors-in-training to address English Learners’ social emotional needs,” which is now under review with the Journal of Educational Research and Practice and “Effectiveness of an adapted Social Emotional Learning (SEL) virtual program for English Language Learners (ELLs) during COVID-19," which is currently in revision now and will be submitted to the Journal of Youth Development.