PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — A Peninsula teen who saw some of her classmates struggling with English started a program to help those students overcome their language challenges.

One in ten students in American public schools are English language learners, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Palo Alto’s Keya Gupta is determined to bring those numbers down. Gupta noticed a student wasn’t following their teacher’s instructions in weight lifting class.

“One day, this kid almost hurt himself really badly because he was lifting weights improperly,” said Gupta.

The student spoke limited English, so Gupta, who knows Spanish, started translating for him.

But he wasn’t the only one.

“It turned out about a third of the class did not speak English and didn’t understand what the teacher was saying everyday,” explained Gupta.

So she talked to her Woodside High School teachers and administrators last year and discovered the school’s English as a Second Language program only allowed students with limited English skills to take basic classes.

“They feel they can’t take AP classes or advanced classes or electives, because they don’t have the program support to take them,” Gupta said. “It shocked me because I was able to take whatever classes I wanted to.”

So with her school’s permission, the 12th grader gathered volunteer tutors and started an afterschool program to give academic support for English learners.

The program is called “Arriba,” which is Spanish for “up.”

Since the pandemic the program’s run through videoconferencing. Arriba has tutored more than 70 students from seven local schools in a variety of subjects, like algebra for 8th grader Brianna Garcia Solis.

“It helped me with my math skills and makes more more excited to do math everyday,” said Garcia Solis.

Gupta even programmed an interactive ChatBot named Lexi on the Arriba website so students can practice conversations in English.

Tutor Isabelle Cobb calls her determined.

“She takes initiative when she sees a problem. She thinks of what she can do to make it better,” said Cobb.

Arriba is helping students who speak Spanish and Farsi. The program is seeking additional volunteer tutors.

“It’s so important that people have equal educational opportunities. So to be able to provide these students with that has been amazingly warming,” Gupta said.

So for developing a tutoring program for English learners, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Keya Gupta.

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