As a middle schooler, junior Olivia P. watched her older sister journey to school on Saturday mornings to teach English. Once she witnessed how her sister's volunteer work not only impacted the community at large but also the volunteers themselves, Olivia instantly knew she wanted to be a part of Friendship and Language Acquisition (FALA).
Graded's FALA program was created in 1999 to serve low-income individuals in the nearby community who lacked English-learning opportunities. Today, student enrollment is at its highest in its twenty-year history. More than 180 students — children, teenagers, and adults — from throughout the city of São Paulo travel to Graded to receive free English lessons.
Over the years, FALA has thrived. "It's incredible to see how much the program has benefited our community," said FALA Advisor and Middle School Teaching Assistant Sandra Greenwald. "I've had students reach out to me and their Graded student-teachers years later, to tell us how English has provided them with new educational and job opportunities."
The program has also greatly benefited Graded student volunteers. "Our students learn that there are many things they take for granted, such as being bilingual," explained FALA Advisor and Lower School Teaching Assistant Renata Duarte. "Through FALA, many of our students are able to make connections with people from other places and realities, that they would never have if it weren't for FALA."
When he stepped into his classroom for the first time, senior Gabriel M. thought his nerves would consume him. As he started speaking, he was immediately interrupted by students who asked him to speak more slowly. Fortunately, his fears of not "being a good teacher" quickly diminished. Fast forward the semester, Gabriel's students told him he was one of the best teachers they had ever had.
"I love being a part of FALA because I am able to help people and the community that surrounds me. I've been able to make new friendships, share my knowledge, and help people grow," said Gabriel. "The most important thing for me is to see people smile and have fun in class."
Graded students demonstrate exceptional commitment, leadership, and a positive attitude. Driven by a passion for education and gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded, student-teachers prepare their own lesson plans and improve their teaching strategies by working collaboratively with their co-teachers, advisors, and fellow student leaders. "I value FALA because it is so real. It's a little different from the other clubs I participate in, because our actions have real consequences," added Olivia. "There is a much bigger responsibility. But it has also shown me how much I love teaching and education, and that I can bring change."
The program continues to evolve and grow. Prospective FALA volunteers observe classes each week, providing their peers with ongoing feedback. After a semester, they move on to teach their own classes. FALA's leadership group strives to improve their students' experience. According to Olivia, "It is challenging, but we're currently trying to make sure everyone [teachers] is prepared to teach so that our students are more engaged in class."