When Aidee Oliva first started attending San Fernando Senior High School two years ago, she often found herself at a loss.
"It was hard," said the 11th-grader, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. "You cannot ask anything to anybody because you don't know the language."
But since joining Language in Action, an after-school program run through the EduCare foundation in partnership with Beyond the Bell, the 17-year-old has learned to expand her vocabulary to help others better understand her. For Aidee, knowing English is important because it removes the barrier between her and her classmates.
"It helped, because now I feel more comfortable speaking with others," she said. "People here aren't going to laugh at you, because they don't know, either. You're learning with them."
Through the 11-week program, students practice speaking and listening, while participating in a service project. The language program is offered at 59 schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District.
For Dongni Zhao, who arrived from China her freshman year, the program is helping her realize her dream of one day becoming a surgeon.
"For me, it's a first step toward the dream," said Dongni, 17, who now helps out with the program when she can. "After I did this program, I feel like I became more open to opportunities."
Robert Diaz, program coordinator with Beyond the Bell, said students who participate in the program have scored 40 points higher on the California English Language Development test than their peers.
"I think being invested in the school and invested in something besides just a regular school day gives them that added support," Diaz said. "I hope we can keep servicing more and more kids."
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, $810,000 was granted to local literacy programs such as Language in Action this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade level, are at risk of illiteracy or who have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.