Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Young Minds in Buckingham: Vilma Giron-Lima

The first in her family to graduate from high school, Vilma Giron-Lima works at the Lubber Run Center and studies at Trinity College.

“Can you read that? What’s it say?” Vilma Giron-Lima asks Karen Barrionuevo, a kindergartener who wears glasses and a pink-hooded, grey sweatshirt. Together they hold a book in the after school classroom of the Lubber Run Community Center.

It’s a room of short-legged tables and chattering children.

Ms. Giron-Lima has about a half-dozen charges who attend Pre-K to 2nd grade at K.W. Barrett Elementary School.

Vilma Giron-Lima instructs Karen Barrionuevo on her reading homework. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Lee el libro cuartros veces,” Ms. Giron-Lima reads from the Spanish instructions. “It means you have to read the book four times.”

“No I don’t,” Karen says.

“Yes you do so that you can understand the story,” Ms. Giron-Lima says.

“Max gets ready,” Karen reads the cover, and that is about as far as she gets.

Ms. Giron-Lima, though 18, is already a bit of a star in the Buckingham neighborhood, where she grew up, attending Barrett and then Kenmore Middle School.

This past summer she won a $600 scholarship from BU-GATA, a neighborhood tenants association, after graduating from Washington-Lee High School. (The scholarship was largely supplied by Sam Chon, the owner of the Glebe Market.)

Vilma Giron-Lima. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The money bought all her books last semester at Trinity College in Washington, where she is in her first year studying psychology. Trinity has promised her $8,000 a year to attend, she said. Tuition, fees, room and board at the private college run about $27,000 per year, according to the school's web site.

She is the first in her family to finish high school and go to college.

A volunteer at Lubber Run for years, she began earning a paycheck last summer.

“We were excited to be able to offer her that position,” said Yvanna Cordova, a recreation programmer at Lubber Run Community Center and Ms. Giron-Lima’s supervisor.

College work and a paid position together have “been tough,” Ms. Giron-Lima said.

Her supervisor said she thought the pressure hit Ms. Giron-Lima pretty hard last fall, but, “She’s become more comfortable, more confident.”

Ms. Cordova said she understood Ms. Giron-Lima’s story as it was much like her own.

Neither of Ms. Giron-Lima’s parents, Manuel and Dinora Giron, who live in Buckingham but are from Guatemala, are educated past elementary school, and they did not particularly encourage their daughter to advance her education, but she said she wanted to prove to them that she could.

“I’ve been working really, really hard,” she said as she laughed a bit. “I did it, and I’m really happy.”

Vilma Giron-Lima entices students with the promise of "points" as she helps them with homework in the after school program. (Click to enlarge the image.)

She’s had teachers and counselors telling her to continue her education along the way.

“What I try to tell the kids is [a college education] is not unattainable,” said Jim Thomas, Ms. Giron-Lima’s social studies teacher at Washington-Lee High School. He told her the same information he told other students. “It’s all about planning ahead. It’s all about developing a strategy.”

She was an “excellent student, excellent student. One of the best I ever had,” Mr. Thomas said.

“She was always looking outside of the subject matter and could make references to the outside world,” Mr. Thomas said. She showed a “higher level” of thinking.

He said she took pride in all her work, even the mundane assignments that other students may have completed well, but never took beyond the basics.

If the assignment was to find information about a topic from sources outside the textbooks and the classroom, she would return the next morning, saying, “I read this, I saw this, and I have questions,” said Mr. Thomas who taught her in three courses. “She’s intrinsically motivated in her classes.”

She says that her family, for whom she has translated since second grade, is happy with all her achievements. This includes her extended family in Guatemala.

“They know that I’m going to college….They know that I’m trying to pursue an education. And they’re proud of me,” she said.

The full-time student is taking five classes this semester including psychology, and a philosophy class that she really enjoys. She said she plans to put her knowledge into a leadership position someday, though she calls herself “shy” and “quiet.”

Even here, she has already had some experience.

Her supervisor, Ms. Cordova, said that Ms. Giron-Lima is responsible for leading her elementary students with a curriculum that she helps to design each week. She has already received training in the Positive Activities in Learning and Leisure program, a bully-prevention program.

For a community talent show, she has been a mentor and team leader, Ms. Cordova said.

In 2006, the Lubber Run Center’s young volunteers—Ms. Giron-Lima, Nate Giles, and Ung Chhavalak—won county-wide “volunteer of the year” honors for their work at the center. They worked with the children after school and also helped with other events such as “Eggstravaganza” and the Halloween “Haunted House.”

“They just contributed countless hours,” Ms. Cordova said.

After Trinity College, it’s on to graduate school and certification as a school psychologist. But she’s already applying a little psychology to her pint-sized followers when she holds back the points they receive for completing tasks.

Ms. Giron Lima laughs with the students after school at the Lubber Run Community Center. They give her mixed reviews because she makes them complete their homework. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The kids give her mixed reviews. Their complaint? She makes them complete their homework.

“Karen I know that you know how to read this book. You’re being overreacting,” Ms. Giron-Lima says.

“I did read it,” Karen says.

“Then what was it about?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Well, then you’ve got to read it again,” Ms. Giron-Lima tells her. “You’re going to have to show me your homework so I can give you a point.”

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