An Oakland University professor is using technology to arrange virtual “study hall” sessions between OU students studying Spanish and Pontiac High School students.

The project was developed by Dr. Cecilia Saenz-Roby, an associate professor of Spanish at Oakland University, in collaboration with Sonia Nieske, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Pontiac High School, and Angela Powell-Medlock, an at-risk social worker at Pontiac High School.

Saenz-Roby has a long history of partnering with the community of Pontiac, including visits to schools and community centers, support of La Casa Amiga Hispanic Outreach Center, organizing visits to OU by groups of Pontiac High School students, creating and conducting a service learning course in which OU students work with Pontiac students, and more.

“Cecilia has been a champion among our colleagues working in Pontiac, so it is no surprise that she found another way to serve,” said Kevin Corcoran, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chief community engagement officer at OU.

There are currently four OU students participating in the program, as well as about 20 ESL students from Pontiac High School. The sessions will cover a range of topics, including English, geometry and math.

“It gives our Spanish students a chance to practice the language, learn new information about Hispanic countries, and acquire some teaching experience,” Saenz-Roby said.

Most of the classes meet twice a week.

“For now, the sessions are conducted by student volunteers with either the teacher of the course or a school tutor present,” Saenz-Roby said. “I also frequently participate in sessions to further mentor our volunteers.”

Saenz-Roby said she hopes the collaborative program will continue to grow.

“I am organizing an additional language exchange partner between students of my Summer I SPN 3170 (Spanish Conversation and Composition) and (Pontiac High School teacher) Sonia Nieske’s ESL class,” she said. “It will involve a total of 11 OU students and I hope it will continue until the end of the Pontiac High School current semester.”