Feb 24, 2014

Tutoring English Language Learners at Portland High School

Resident Leadership Program in Parkside Neighborhood Supports Tutoring Effort

(Portland) Last spring, Sharmarke Hussain Ali, a student at the University of Southern Maine and a resident of Portland’s Parkside neighborhood, sought help from The Opportunity Alliance’s Parkside Neighborhood Center (PNC) in starting a tutoring program for high school students. Through his experiences as a volunteer tutor at Portland High School, and being a former ELL student himself, Sharmarke felt high school aged English Language Learners could benefit greatly by receiving additional supports that weren’t currently available at the school or in the community. He realized how important the tutoring and mentoring he received as a high school student was to his academic success and wanted that same level of support made available to ELL students at Portland High School.


While he knew he had the skills and motivation to create something that could benefit the ELL student community, he struggled for several months trying to initiate a project that could be easily implemented and remain sustainable over time. But then, through his connection with the Parkside Neighborhood Center, he participated in Resident Leadership training and spent a couple days learning valuable leadership and facilitation skills. Through this training and in collaboration with the Parkside Neighborhood Center, Sharmarke began to create the framework for an after school program for ELL student at Portland High School.   Together with staff from the Parkside Neighborhood Center, he met with Portland school officials, Portland Mentoring Alliance staff, and other program providers to learn from their experiences and by the end of the fall semester he had a fully designed after school program, including volunteer tutors from the University of Southern Maine’s Multicultural Student Association (MSA), that was ready to be implemented. 


While the initial plan was to begin working with five students, there was such a high interest that the program, TA-SEL (Tutoring After-School for English Learners) is already tutoring and mentoring 12 Portland High School students twice a week.  All of this came from the collective effort and collaboration of several community partners, including the United Way, USM Multicultural Student Association, Portland High School, Portland Mentoring Alliance, Sam L. Cohen Foundation, The Wildflower Fund, The Opportunity Alliance, and Parkside neighborhood residents.  The Resident Leadership program, a skill-building training on leadership and facilitation, that Sharmarke participated in, was offered through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  This training provided him with the skills to be an effective leader and create a program that would benefit a large number of students and give them a greater chance at success both in school and after graduation.   Portland Mentoring Alliance, Portland High School and USM volunteers partnered with him and together they have successfully designed and implemented the program with the full support of The Opportunity Alliance.   He is working closely with existing afterschool programs, so he can fill the gaps in existing services while not duplicating those services.


There are other success stories in The Opportunity Alliance’s Resident Leadership program. In Portland’s Riverton neighborhood, TOA is partnering with a mom to create and lead a group that provides mothers in the neighborhood an opportunity to connect and share advice about how to better help their children succeed in school and build higher aspirations.  In Biddeford, TOA is partnering with a mom to lead a more sustainable support group for families with children with mental illness that focuses on increasing natural supports and parents working together to care for the children. 


For more information on any aspect of this story, please contact: Jim Gemmell, Director of Communications: 207-523-5014,