For many students, learning how to speak English well is hard – but Summerbridge is here to help.
Every summer, the non-profit organisation runs a five-week English learning programme for underprivileged secondary students in Hong Kong. Summerbridge, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, uses volunteer mentors aged 16-22 to teach students.
Ada Kwok Wai-lim, 17, joined Summerbridge as a student in 2014 and 2015. Her time there, she said, was very different from a normal class at school, where students sit and listen to their teacher. For example, the Form Six student says, she made Korean dishes when learning about Korean culture. “Our mentor also taught us how to dance to K-pop,” she tells Young Post.
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Full of support
Before entering the programme, Form Four student, Ray Chung Hon-kuan, 17, didn’t speak much English. Summerbridge changed that, and he became a fan of the language thanks to the positive learning environment.
“Everyone appreciates and supports each other,” says Ray.
In addition, there were motivational cheers – slogans that the mentors and their students would say out loud.
“We often had to [perform] cheers together,” says Ada’s twin sister, Ida Kwok Wai-shun, adding that they do several jobs.
“They are icebreakers, give us a confidence boost, and make us [feel] more supportive of each other.”
It wasn’t just the chants that would do that. The mentors would often offer words of encouragement to their students as well. “If your grades aren’t [good], some teachers might ask why you didn’t do better, ” Ray says.
But Summerbridge teachers are different, and will try to help you instead of telling you off.
The lack of a big age gap between himself and his teachers helps, too.
Ray says he was more at ease during lessons, because both the student and teacher are able to learn from one another.
“I’ve learned to open myself up to others,” he adds. “I [feel like I] know myself better, too.”
Unique teaching styles
“Every mentor has their own teaching style,” Ida says. “Regardless of the approach they use, they all want to [raise] our interest in the subject [they teach].”
The programme has helped Ida develop a love of learning, she says, adding that this is an important life lesson that she has taken with her since graduating from Summerbridge.
Ada says she will treasure the memories she made during letter-writing.
“We [wrote] to teachers and classmates. It’s not just about polishing our English writing skills, though. We got to know each other on a deeper level, and it helped to [cement] our friendships.”
The most memorable letter she wrote, Ada recalls, was 12 pages long. She wrote it to one of her mentors, who replied to her with a letter just as long.
Making a return
Some students loved their Summerbridge experience so much, they have returned as teachers. Teacher Xavier Chan, 35, joined the programme as a student in 1997.
“The teachers encouraged us to share our thoughts [with them and each other], and to make mistakes. They told us it was okay to make mistakes, as long as we keep trying. That was a very important message to me as a student,” he said.
After that, Chan became a teaching assistant, and then a mentor.
“I wanted to share what I learned from my teachers, and help teachers to support [a new set of] students,” he says. He was able to help his colleagues improve their teaching materials and methods thanks to his experience as a former student, Chan adds.
“I want to be a role model,” he says, and help today’s students realise they, too, can grow and transform – just like he did, thanks to Summerbridge.
Form Two students can apply for Summerbridge until March 30. Hong Kong permanent residents and non-Hong Kong citizens, aged 16-22, can apply to be student teachers, with the deadline March 9 and March 2, respectively. Find out more on the Summerbridge website.