Westmont Magazine Supplying the Needs of Inner-city Student
Some days, Erica Sells ’05 comes back from recess and finds a new student waiting at the door of her third-grade classroom. At the end of the afternoon, another child, who was just learning to read, may say goodbye because the family is moving back to Mexico. In one semester, she has lost 10 students and welcomed 12 new ones to her English immersion class in an inner-city Arizona school.
Erica got a different kind of surprise in September: a large box of school supplies arrived from education professor Andrew Mullen and other Westmont faculty and staff members. Mullen had heard that Erica, who just started teaching in July, had to buy most of her supplies, and he asked the college community for donations to help the disadvantaged, Spanish-speaking students. Her annual budget is only $300, and she didn’t receive many supplies at the start of the school year.
“The box was packed with crayons, markers, construction paper, videos, glue — all kinds of stuff,” Erica says. “The kids were so excited. They have so little, and they appreciate anything they receive.”
It’s challenging to teach students when their parents speak no English and sometimes neglect them. But Erica loves her job and her students. “I always wanted to work with children and teach where I was needed,” she says. “The kids love coming to school — some of them eat all their meals at school and only get attention in class. They come from such harsh environments that anything looks better than home. They lack basic skills, and it’s rewarding to see them make progress.”
Erica praises the commitment of the staff at her school, located in an area noted for gang activity. “They are competent and caring teachers, and they have been very supportive of me,” she says.
In four years at Westmont, Erica earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential. As a student teacher in Carpinteria, she discovered she liked working with students who didn’t speak English. “The credential program at Westmont was fantastic,” she says. “It prepared me so much.”
Teaching comes naturally to Erica; both her mother and grandmother are teachers. She has substituted for her mother, who only has 18 pupils. The two classes, one of privileged Californians, the other of Arizona farm workers’ children, have become pen pals; this correspondence between two different worlds expands the experience of both.