United Way programs help Anaheim students with math, English and computer science


Every morning third-grade teacher Jennifer Swan-Altieri starts her students off with a motivational mantra:

“What if it it’s too hard?” she asks.

“We will push through,” the students respond.

“What if it’s too tough?”

“We will push through.”

“What if it’s too rough?”

“We will push through.”

It ends with the children affirming: “We push through anything we put our minds to.”

The motivation behind the morning mantra is for the Paul Revere Elementary School children to learn to constructively handle adversity.

“Life is going to be hard at times,” Swan-Altieri said. “But we don’t give up. We have to work together and help each other through the tough times.”


The sentiment is one that carries through programs offered throughout the school on Guinida Lane in Anaheim, an area known for crime and gang activity, as well as tagging, beer bottles, broken glass and other blights.

“Our little neighborhood is definitely high-need,” Swan-Altieri said said.

Orange County United Way identified the school as one that could benefit from its programs and resources — a partnership that began five years ago.

“The principal and teachers found value in what we were trying to do, and we got off to the races,” said Orange County United Way CEO Sue Parks, adding that they offer a customized approach for each school based on needs.

Paul Revere stands out for the level of program integration, Parks said.

“We want to take the model and build on it,” she said.

At-risk students are identified by the principal and a teacher, who is on special assignment, to match them up with the right assistance program, including SparkPoint OC, which teaches parents financial empowerment; an early reading program for students; and a regular food pantry stocking free fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. United Way also donated Chromebooks for a classroom technology program.

The programs are paying off, according to Swan-Altieri, who has seen higher test scores in reading comprehension and math computation. The average reading level in her third-grade class is now 5.5 (fifth grade, fifth month). One third-grader is reading at a 7.2 assessment level (seventh grade, second month).

“It’s huge,” she said. “I’ve seen the levels increase, but this is by far the highest I’ve ever seen them jump.”

Computer programmer Gerardo Gonzalez, 31, said his 9-year-old son, Gerardo, a student in Swan-Altieri’s class, is excelling.

“Now he helps me with the computer,” said Gonzalez. “And I work all day on the computer. … I don’t know how he does it.”

Laura Alvarado, 32, said the SparkPoint financial literacy program, a one-year program from which she graduated in May, helped her and her two children learn the value of saving.

Her 9-year-old son, Demees Popoca, also a student of Swan-Altieri, said when he wants something, he has to decide whether he really should spend the money.

“Twenty-five dollars might be like getting food [or] getting that one thing,” he said.

Alvarado said the program taught her how to budget and save, skills she passed on to her children.

Her advisor had her set a goal: $250 for the year. By the end of the year, she ended up saving over $1,000. The program also paid five of her bills so she could put that money into savings, as well.

“You don’t realize you waste money,” she said in Spanish.

The program also helped prepare her for job interviews. She now works at another school as a playground supervisor.

Maria Vazquez Silva, 42, and her daughter Perla Vazquez Calixto, 9, a student of Swan-Altieri, have benefited from the food pantry program.

“Thank God, we’ve never been without food,” Silva said in Spanish.

Jessica Peralta is a contributor to Times Community News.

Jessica Peralta is a contributor to Times Community News.