Tessi Ruiz has been with CCATE since 2013 when she began with the Red Cross Club. Since then, she has volunteered to take on several other important roles at CCATE which have included coaching the soccer teams that play in a recreational league in Norristown as well as facilitating the girls group and the reading circle. While the soccer team is currently unable to practice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the reading circle and the girls group have been able to transfer to an online format.
The reading circle is a book club where the kids can choose books that interest them and practice reading aloud to the whole group. Tessi says that “Even though the students are usually timid at first, they quickly open up to their peers and become active participants. It can be extremely powerful to see the kids progress in their vocabularies and watch as they grow more confident in themselves.” Initially, the reading circle read the first three books of the Harry Potter series. Other favorites have included “Holes,” “Wonder,” and “Goosebump Haunted House.” Recently, during the online sessions, we read a book titled “Loser” by Jerry Spinelli and are about to finish “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. After each reading session, the students discuss and analyze the themes of what they read that day and anticipate what might happen in the next chapters. When they finish each book, it is a tradition to watch the movie adaptation of the book if it exists. If there is no movie version, the group will watch a movie that is similar to the book that they read which is what they did by watching “The Mighty Ducks” after reading “Loser.” Tessi says that, overall, the reading circle has transitioned wonderfully to an online setting and the kids have stayed engaged and ready to participate every week. In fact, by using Zoom video calls, students in the future that are unable to physically attend the reading circle might have the opportunity to participate remotely from home.
The girls group also usually meets once a week at CCATE but there haven’t been any meetings since the end of the school year. This group originated as a safe space for the girls to openly discuss topics that they find interesting or important to their lives. Tessi believes that this group is very special because of the connection shared between the girls and their ability to rely on each other to discuss both the good and the bad things happening. The lesson plans are developed around topics that the girls of the group are facing in their lives which, oftentimes, are issues that aren’t commonly discussed. The openness of this group creates a community that allows for authentic discussions that highlight the shared experiences between the participants.
“For me, CCATE is the ability to find your strengths and to learn, no matter your age. If you would have asked me before 2013 when I started at CCATE if I saw myself in so many roles here, I would have said no way. If it wasn’t for CCATE and the encouragement of the families and kids, I would not have had the confidence to do all of this and to learn so much from the community. CCATE has not only been an opportunity for personal growth, but it has even allowed me to meet lifelong friends as well as my fiancé, Cristobal. At CCATE, there is always an opportunity to be a leader and it is an amazing place for growth.”