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Valley Students Tutor Refugees From Around the World

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Each Saturday from 9 a.mto 12 m. nearly a dozen middle and high school students at Magnolia Science Academy-5 (MSA-5), a Grade 6-12 STEAM charter public school in Reseda, stroll back into the classroom; this time as teachers offering free English tutoring to refugees from around the world via Zoom. 

They are part of the First Bricks Education Project created by Embrace Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides international humanitarian aid including the First Bricks Online Academy, and adopted by MSA-5 to meet its Student Learning Outcomes global citizenship goal. 

Participating students range in grades from middle and high school, to college and beyond, and hail from countries such as Greece, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and others. The ratio of MSA-5 student teachers to online students ranges from one to 30 to one to 123 with an average of three to 10 student teachers.

“It’s great to see our student teachers volunteer and help others in this way,” said Ali Kaplan, MSA-5 principal. “It’s a program where educator volunteers train students to become teachers, and refugees around the world become the students. Our student teachers are simultaneously tutoring, learning and mentoring students. The program aligns with our school’s five pillars, which include: innovation, creativity, literacy, growth mindset, connection, and, especially global citizenship,” added Kaplan.

The online academy volunteer program, which starts a new cohort every eight weeks, helps displaced underprivileged children and adults around the globe access free online lessons and tutoring, while offering MSA-5 student-teachers an opportunity to complete volunteer service hours toward a Congressional Award Program (CAP), established by Congress in 1979 to get kids involved in leadership and public service. 

Thirty-two students have participated in the program since its launch at MSA-5 in 2019. Last year, a student teacher received a Congressional Award gold medal in Washington D.C. 

“It’s gratifying to see first generation students who are also learning English, connect with immigrants and refugees around the world,” said Doganay. “We started with 6 to 7 kids who are now in college, and have growing interest among students who wish to participate. We prioritize seniors, but also make the program available to students in other grades,” he added.

The program uses curriculum established through Voice of America Learning English, a multimedia news source that offers English newscasts as a way of helping people around the world learn English. MSA-5 Counselor, Mr. Ibrahim Doganay, checks in with his team of student teachers each Friday, and serves as the initial contact leading the first online sessions over the course of several weeks until students improve their English-language skills or achieve the program’s “Ready To Go” level. Once they achieve levels 1 and 2, they are ready to be paired with a middle or high school student teacher. 

 Keyri Villatoro Echevería, a 10th grader from El Salvador and English learner says she’s only been in the U.S. five years and is excited to this year be a part of First Bricks. “It feels great to teach students in other countries, because we are learning together,” said Villatoro Echeverría. “Students are teaching me that age doesn’t matter when you want to learn. I thought it would be hard, and never thought that I would be teaching English,” she added.

Magnolia Science Academy is located at 18238 Sherman Way. To learn more about Magnolia Public Schools,  tuition-free charter schools focused on engineering, arts, and math, visit To learn more about First Bricks email

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