LA HABRA : New Hope Is Nurtured in a Garage

For the children of Fifth Avenue, Rose Espinoza's garage is homework headquarters.

Two years ago, Espinoza converted her garage into a classroom, complete with chalkboards, desks and book-filled shelves, and began tutoring neighborhood youngsters after school.

Many of the students get little help at home with their schoolwork because their parents speak only Spanish and are unable to read their lessons, said Espinoza, who has recently added English classes for parents to her school-in-a-garage.

"I wanted parents to go to school, too, so the whole family could help each other," said Espinoza, 41, a computer designer at Beckman Instruments in Brea.

Students say Espinoza's free tutoring program has helped them boost their grades and motivated them to learn.

A year ago, Alma Borja got Cs and Ds on her report cards, no matter what she did.

Today, the 12-year-old Imperial Middle School sixth-grader is at the top of her class and credits her improvement to Espinoza's help.

"I started coming here so I could get help with my homework," Alma said. "My mom and dad don't know English so they can't help me."

To work on that dilemma, Espinoza persuaded school officials a few months ago to provide a teacher to work with parents.

Students are tutored from 4 to 6 p.m. while parents come to class from 6 to 9 p.m. Espinoza works a split shift in order to be there Mondays through Thursdays.

On a recent evening, parent Rogelio Morales practiced his writing. "This class has given me more confidence in myself and my work, and the whole neighborhood feels the same," the 41-year-old machinist said.

The school blossomed from Espinoza's commitment to her neighborhood. "When I moved in here in 1990, there were gang kids with guns and bats in the streets and everybody was afraid to come outside or report them to police," said Espinoza, who lives with her husband and 10-year-old son. At first, Espinoza organized barbecues at the park and sports activities for the youngsters. Then she surveyed the residents on her block and learned that the children weren't doing their homework.

"I found out that the parents didn't help their children with their homework because most of them were immigrants who couldn't understand English," Espinoza said. "And, therefore, the kids had very low self-esteem."

Her students like studying now and are getting better grades, she said. Along with the high marks at school comes a boost in their self-confidence too.

"I thought I was stupid when I didn't understand any of my homework," Alma said. "But, I think I'm smart now and I want to be a teacher or a police officer one day."

Her mother, Gracia Borja, thanks Espinoza for her child's enthusiasm toward school and her new attitude.

"I'm thinking about going to the classes because I want to help my kids and to get ahead in life," she said in Spanish. "The neighborhood was infested with gang members and I was afraid to let my kids play outside, but Rosie taught us not to be afraid and gave us strength to stand up and take back the neighborhood for the children's sake."

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