Fitch senior mentors new students so they 'don't feel alone'

Fitch senior Lisa Santos is seen Wednesday, May 18, 2016.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Fitch senior Lisa Santos is seen Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Lisa Santos barely spoke any English when she arrived in Groton five years ago.

“When I first got here, I struggled a lot,” said Santos, 17, who is from the Dominican Republic. “I didn’t have any friends, but I had faith.”

Now the senior at Robert E. Fitch High School serves as a teaching assistant in a civics class and helps other students struggling with the language.

“When I got here, I was so alone,” Santos said. “And I wanted these students to not also be alone.”

Santos’ mother, Ysabel Kochachy, moved to the United States to try to build a better life for her daughters.

Kochachy traveled first to New York, then moved to Groton, where she had a friend.

Santos stayed with her grandmother and father in the Dominican Republic, then arrived after her mother settled in Groton.

She started as an eighth-grader at West Side Middle School, where she didn’t have a translator and almost no students at the school spoke Spanish.

“I cried every single day when I was new in school,” she said.

She understood only about half of what was said to her. She hoped that by the time she went to high school, she would know English.

“I basically learned by hearing,” she said.

She learned fast.

By the time she got to high school, she knew too much English to be placed in classes for students just learning the language.

“I tried to work as hard as possible, because I love having good grades,” Santos said. “Even though I was learning slower than everyone else, I got through high school with As and Bs.”

Santos also wanted to help others struggling with English as she had.

During her freshman year, she joined the mentoring group “Student to Student,” which pairs newly arrived students with those familiar with Fitch.

She gave tours of the school, offered students help with classwork and introduced them to her friends.

“I gained (the) experience of getting a student ready for what lay ahead,” she said.

Carmita Hodge, who teaches civics at the high school, said Santos served as her teaching assistant this year.

Hodge had three students who spoke very little English, and it worked to have Santos in the role.

“But Lisa isn’t just attentive to the (English Language Learner) students," Hodge said. "She wants to help anybody who needs help. She wants to pass out papers, she wants to copy everything, she wants to do everything and just let me teach. She is just a go-getter."

Santos took part in drama club her sophomore year and played field hockey her junior year.

She’s also worked since age 16.

She plans to keep her job bagging groceries at Stop & Shop through the summer, then work and go to college.

She hopes to study psychology at the University of Connecticut and is waiting to hear back from the university. 

Ultimately, she'd like to help families, mentor youth and become involved in her community, she said.

Her mother and sister, 22, have influenced her the most, she said.

“They have influenced my life because they have always believed in me, in the good and bad things,” Santos said. “They always supported me and (they) are two people who I can always trust and count on if I have any problems.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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